County Candidates Shield Donor Information
Candidates for office often boast the names of their donors, hoping that it proves viability, popularity, and presence in a community, but some candidates for Harris County Commissioners Court are instead shielding the names of their donors.
In his first campaign finance report, candidate for Commissioner Court Precinct 3, mayor of Spring Valley Village, Tom Ramsey raised nearly $155,000, but his report didn’t list occupations or employers for a single donor.
The same couldn’t be said of his Republican primary opponents, Brenda Stardig and Susan Sample. Out of the six Democrats and three Republicans seeking the seat, the only two who did not provide information about their donors were Ramsey and Democratic primary candidate Michael Moore.
The two biggest contributors to the two were Cobb Fendley PAC, which gave $20,000 to Ramsey, and Citizens for Texas PAC which gave Moore, $15,000. Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia contributed $10,000 to Moore, also topping his list of donors.
Research shows that Citizens for Texas PAC is managed by former mayor Bill White, who Moore worked for, and contributes to Democratic candidates regularly.
Cobb Fendley PAC, Ramsey’s largest donor, is a PAC owned and managed by the civil engineering firm CobbFendley & Associates. According to Transparency Texas, the PAC’s largest donation was to Rodney Ellis’ campaign for $40,000. They’ve also given to Commissioner Jack Cagle, Mayor Sylvester Turner and other county and city officials.
The group has also been the recipient of more than $45 million in tax-funded contracts from Harris County since 2000. It also contributed $10,000 to the ReNew Houston campaign, Mayor Turner’s recent campaign asking voters to re-approved Houston’s rain tax.
Many of Ramsey’s other contributors, both PACs and individuals, also contributed to the rain tax campaign or were recipients of county contracts, including the firm he was senior Vice President of, Klotz Associates. Even some lobbyists like Cindy Clifford, who we’ve previously written about, contributed to Ramsey’s campaign.
Harris County Commissioners and candidates have a history of receiving political funding from engineering and architecture firms largely because of their power over high-dollar construction contracts.
Talking about the sudden influx of contractor cash to Commissioner Adrian Garcia shortly after his election, Houston Chronicle reporter Zach Despart wrote:
The reliance of commissioners on donations from companies who receive country contracts – a practice that took root in Harris County politics long before [Adrian] Garcia’s election – creates the impression businesses must contribute in order to receive work, scholars said. Rice University political science Professor Mark Jones said the stark shift in Garcia’s donor base after Election Day was not the result of engineers suddenly having a change of heart about him, but rather a recognition he soon would control millions of dollars of infrastructure spending.
While anyone is free to contribute to candidates of their choosing, it should draw scrutiny when candidates shield most of their contributors’ employment information when research shows they’re directly connected to entities that do or could receive lucrative tax-funded contracts.