Texas gubernatorial candidate Bill White on Thursday called on Gov. Rick Perry to freeze all new applications to the state fund that awarded $4.5 million to a Perry donor under unusual circumstances.
The Democratic challenger, speaking after a campaign stop at a machine shop in an industrial area of Fort Worth, said the move is necessary because of what he termed "the emerging scandal engulfing the governor's office."
The Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday that Covergen Lifesciences Inc., a company owned by longtime Perry donor David Nance, was awarded $4.5 million in August from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund even though its application was rejected by a regional screening board.
Board members told the paper that the endorsement was mandatory and that they couldn't recall another company getting money without it.
The company's application was eventually endorsed by a separate board made up of Perry appointees.
White called for a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the award to company owned by Nance, who over 10 years has donated $80,000 to Perry's campaigns.
"We need to know what conversations (Nance) had with Rick Perry and when," White said.
Perry has denied that Nance received special treatment. He said Thursday that the allegations were "all about connecting dots that don't exist." Perry said he does not get involved in the company vetting process.
"What we're doing is promoting economic development in the state of Texas," Perry said. "If the Legislature wants to change the way this program is run, pass a law and let's take a look at it."
Perry said he could not remember when he had last talked to Nance and told reporters during an event in Round Rock that the businessman had not contributed to his campaign since 2006.
Meanwhile, Perry spokesman Mark Miner said Thursday that freezing fund applications would shut down a resource that is bringing technology companies to Texas. The technology fund was created by the Legislature in 2005 at Perry's request to invest public money in promising startup firms.
"Bill White's comments show a complete disregard and lack of interest in strengthening our economy and creating jobs," Miner wrote in an e-mail.
The governor's office announced Thursday that another $2.5 million had been awarded to a company developing botanically-based therapies for treating viruses.
White, the former mayor of Houston, toured the machine shop with its owner, Ronnie Alexander, and later used it as an example of how he believes the award to Nance symbolizes Perry's time in office.
"Money doesn't come from the sky," he said. "It comes from sales and payroll taxes. Those subsidies (to companies) come from working Texans."
If elected, White said he would seek to make awards from the technology fund and others like it based on decisions by regional chambers of commerce.
Associated Press Writer Jay Root in Austin contributed to this report.