Strange (to me) article on toll roads, the Harris County Toll Road Authority, Mike Krusee and corrupt contractors in Florida. Looks like former TxDOT commissioner John Johnson (who was chairman, not merely a commissioner) is unhappy with the authority being able to spend almost $21 billion on toll roads around Houston, BECAUSE the money is being dished out by the Harris County Commissioners Court, an *elected* group rather than, say, appointed by Governor 39 Percent. And, of all people, Mike Krusee, who is hardly known for wanting to be fair about toll roads! jumps on the bandwagon, too.
On the other hand, Harris County Commissioners took campaign contributions from a group that is being investigated in Florida for illegal campaign contribution practices. And THIS sure looks fishy, as an example of this type of thing. From FortBendNow in Sep, 2006
A major Florida engineering consultant, under government scrutiny for alleged illegal campaign contribution practices, has contributed to several Fort Bend County elected officials through its Texas political action committee...
A check of campaign contribution records on file with the Texas Ethics Commission shows PBS&J made political contributions to every member of Fort Bend County Commissioners Court over the past four years. The contributions came from PBS&J PAC, the company’s Texas political action committee.
The PBS&J payments include $6,500 in contributions over the past three years to County Judge Bob Hebert; $4,000 since 2003 to Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers; $3,000 since 2002 to Precinct 2 Commissioner Grady Prestage; $1,300 since 2004 to Precinct 1 Commissioner Tom Stavinoha; and $250 to Precinct 4 Commissioner James Patterson.
Stavinoha, Prestage and Meyers all said Wednesday they were somewhat familiar with the Florida company, but didn’t have extensive dealings with the firm. Hebert and Patterson could not be reached for comment.
In its most recent local activity, PBS&J PAC made political contributions of $800, $2,000 and $2,500, respectively, to Stavinoha, Meyers and Hebert, all on March 6, 2006.
A week before the contributions were made, Hebert, Meyers and Stavinoha joined Prestage and Patterson in unanimously voting to extend an engineering services contract for PBS&J.
According to information from the Fort Bend County Engineer’s office, the contract involves preliminary engineering and right-of-way acquisition services for a Texas Department of Transportation project to widen F.M. 359 near Richmond.
However, no information obtained in preparing this report suggests the timing of the contribution is more than coincidence.
I don't know, of course, if TxDOT has an axe to grind, or contracts are going to companies that TxDot, Perry, and Krusee don't want (and therefore they want to cut out local control) or if the Harris County Toll Authority is rewarding campaign contributors.
At the state level, the Texas Department of Transportation’s commissioners do it the same way, but they are appointed by the governor, not elected.
“We don’t allow TxDOT Commissioners to take contributions from the people they award contracts to,” Rep. Krusee said. “We shouldn’t allow Harris County Commissioners to take those contributions either.”
But doing so is asking for trouble said former TxDOT Commissioner John Johnson of Houston.
He wrote to lawmakers: It “can lead to the public’s perception that it is an open door to corruption and influence peddling.”
Please. This is Texas. You can't hardly take two steps out the door towards the Capital to step in what looks like, when you're scraping off your shoe, some influence peddling at most levels of government. Does Perry give a hoot when it looks like he is pandering, say, to Big Pharma? Does TxDot care if it looks like they are pandering to certain construction companies? Nope.
But the whole reason I wrote all this is because of THIS line from the Harris County Commissioners Court about the campaign contributions from contractors.
Emmett sees no threat of corruption because who gets picked is done in open meetings and who gave what can be found on the Internet, which is how 11 News came across PBS&J.
It’s a big national firm whose former employees got into trouble in Florida for allegedly giving money illegally to political candidates.
“The example you just gave is why the process works,” Emmett said. “It’s open, you know who gave money to who.”
No. That's just not good enough. ON the one hand, I loathe, at the Presidential level, the secret secret goings on of the Bush administration, and I sure wouldn't prefer MORE of that on the state level. But I also loathe the *finger in the eye* quality of being able to SEE how big money contributions sure seem to lead directly to favortism for contracts. There IS an answer, but the State Government doesn't want to take it.
A proposal to outlaw contractor contributions to County Commissioners just failed overwhelmingly in the State House, so for now the donations will continue to flow from the people are being paid millions to design our roads.
Yeah. Because if the Texas Lege outlawed campaign contributions at the county level, maybe people would start asking "How Come You're Not Doing This at the State Level?" and their pork fest of corruption would have to end.