Topeka State Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, on Tuesday resumed her attack on the Kansas Bioscience Authority with new criticisms, but leaders at the economic development agency said she was wrong.
In an email to reporters, Wagle cited a YouTube video of KBA President and CEO Tom Thornton speaking before a business group in Wisconsin as evidence that Thornton was wasting taxpayers’ money.
In the talk, Thornton talks about a KBA plan to try to attract venture capital firms, saying that the firms are not required to invest in Kansas companies.
Wagle said Thornton was showing “disdain” for Kansas taxpayers.
“Our goal is to create new jobs and foster economic growth in Kansas, not Illinois, not Wisconsin, and not any other state,” Wagle said.
But KBA board chairman John Carlin and David Vranicar, president of Heartland Bioventures, the commercialization arm of the KBA, said the agency’s plan to lure venture capital firms has been hugely successful.
“We’ve gone from no venture capital firms to three, and our expectation is there will be more soon,” Vranicar said.
He said those companies are not legally required to invest in Kansas businesses, but the KBA steers them toward in-state companies. And funds invested by the KBA into the venture capital firms comes back in investment returns to benefit KBA-led programs, he said.
Carlin said, “We’re very proud of what’s been done.”
In a news release, Wagle also said the KBA awarded $5 million to Midwest Venture Partners, which she said “didn’t even have a venture fund.”
But Vranicar said KBA has not invested anything in Midwest Ventures. “They did not meet all of our requirements,” he said.
Wagle has been critical of the KBA for the past several months. Recently, it was revealed that the Johnson County District Attorney’s office had launched a criminal investigation into the KBA, but has refused to say what is being looked into.
KBA officials have denied any wrongdoing.
Last week, Gov. Sam Brownback asked that the KBA undergo a forensic audit. The board agreed and hired a firm, but Brownback and Wagle have questioned whether the audit will be independent of the board’s influence.
“This auditor has been hired by the KBA and will be directed by the KBA to only look at expenditures that are legitimate. They will not dig in the dirt. The fox is guarding the hen house,” Wagle said.
But Carlin has said the audit will be independent and has invited Brownback and legislative leaders to share any concerns or information with the auditors.