Perry donor bypasses vetting, gets $4.5M from fund
DALLAS, TX Convergen Lifesciences Inc., founded by Perry contributor David G. Nance, won the award in August despite not receiving the endorsement last year of a regional screening board for companies applying for money from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. Regional board members say the endorsement is mandatory, and they cannot recall any other company getting money without their approval. "I don't think anybody sidestepped a process," Perry told reporters after an address to the Dallas Regional Chamber. "You are trying to connect dots that aren't there." The Dallas Morning News first reported the technology fund grant to Convergen in its Wednesday editions. The fund, created by the legislature in 2005 at Perry's request, invests public money in promising startup firms and is administered by the governor's office. So far, the fund has distributed more than $170 million to 120 companies and about $160 million to universities. The regional screening board in Austin declined to endorse Nance's application last year. "His company did not seem terribly exceptional," Matt Winkler, who has reviewed life science proposals for the Austin regional board, told the newspaper. Nance's company appealed directly to a state board made up of Perry appointees, who then endorsed the application and the $4.5 million grant. Perry, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker then approved the award. Neither Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst nor House Speaker Joe Straus immediately responded to messages left by The Associated Press on Wednesday. There was no answer at a phone number for Nance. Perry said he does not believe there is an appearance of favoritism because "a lot of eyes look at those projects" before they are approved for funding. "I am quite comfortable that the oversight is there," he said. Nance has contributed $80,000 to Perry's campaigns since 2000. Perry described Nance as "an entrepreneur and ... a guy we developed a nice, close personal and professional relationship with." Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger told the newspaper that the money was properly awarded because applicants can appeal if rejected by the regional board. But the law does not mention such appeals, and board members couldn't recall it happening in the past. Walter Ulrich, the chairman of the regional board in Houston and a former member of the statewide advisory committee, said approval by the regional boards is mandatory. "It cannot go to the state without our board's approval," Ulrich told the newspaper. "I've never seen that happen." Perry's technology fund has come under fire since The Dallas Morning News reported earlier this month that it doled out more than $16 million to high-tech startups whose investors are big donors to Perry. Bill White, Perry's Democratic opponent in the governor's race, has accused Perry of misusing his authority when awarding grants from the technology fund. "It's very clear the governor's office is trying to cover their tracks," White campaign spokeswoman Katy Bacon said. On the technology fund website, it lists awards updated through the end of last month. The Convergen award is not mentioned. Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor, told the AP that Convergen is not listed among the investment recipients because there hasn't yet been an official announcement.
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