Challenger slams Texas gov over report tech fund gave millions to companies with Perry ties

By Michael Graczyk, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Challenger slams Texas gov over campaign donors

HOUSTON — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White lashed out at Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Monday for what his campaign calls a “public corruption scandal” involving state grants to the Republican incumbent’s campaign donors.

The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday the state has given more than $16 million to high-tech startups whose investors are big donors to Perry. He is seeking an unprecedented third four-year term in the Nov. 2 election.

White mocked a Perry campaign ad that proclaims Texas as open for business. The ad refers to the state’s favorable business climate, but White says only Perry supporters are able to benefit under the system.

“For those companies that open pockets with campaign contributions, indeed the governor’s office is open for business,” he said.

Perry’s campaign shot back Monday, alleging the challenger only got his start in politics because he raised money for former Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Perry, the lieutenant governor and speaker of the Texas House decide together who receives the grants through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, which was created in 2005. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Texas Senate, said Sunday he hadn’t been lobbied by Perry’s office or by House Speaker Joe Straus in the decision making process.

According to The Morning News report, companies with ties to at least eight big donors received awards from the tech fund. Overall, the state has given $173 million to 120 companies through the fund.

“It’s part of a pattern of Rick Perry helping his friends, and his friends helping Rick Perry,” White said. “We’re talking about ethics and also not wasting taxpayer money.

“Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I happen to believe people who have experience in venture capital will invest venture capital more wisely than people who haven’t, especially those in government.”

White demanded Perry’s campaign fund raisers answer questions about when they contacted donors. He also says Perry should release information about ethics reviews for his staffers and those on advisory committees and is calling on the governor to say what performance measures were used for subsidies given to the various companies.

“I’m calling on the governor to come clean with some basic answers to some simple questions,” White said.

Perry has acknowledged knowing someone who has an interest in a project “from time to time.” But he said he was usually unaware if his campaign backers had financial stakes in the technology grant recipients.

At a campaign stop Monday in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Perry defended the selection process, saying companies that get grants go through a “multilayered process.”

Companies that get grants must be approved at the regional level, then by a 17-member statewide board made up of experts in technology and finance, Perry said. Only then, he said, does the proposal go to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker before “a dime of money goes out.”

“One of the reasons we put all of the layers in there was to get the expertise and to get some distance away from it,” Perry told reporters.

His campaign said Monday that White’s own political career began when he was appointed deputy secretary of energy in 1993. Perry’s campaign alleges it was a reward for raising more than $1 million for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

White defended taking the job, saying he had been a recognized energy expert for decades.

“That’s why I was appointed,” he said. “I remember very specifically people having to sort of encourage me to take the job, because of — how do I say it? — there are some sacrifices involved in that.”

Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner also accused the former three-term Houston mayor of using that office “as a rapid rewards program for political supporters.”

“Absolutely not,” White replied, saying campaign contributors named by him to boards or commissions “were a small portion” of his appointments.

If anyone tried to tie campaign donations to an appointment, “I would tell them they were fired,” he said.

Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle contributed to this report from Irving, Texas.

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