Campaign contributions in the race for two open seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District board have already reached high levels a month before the election that will determine the future direction of the district.
More than $500,000 was raised in the reporting period that ended April 9, a month ahead of the May 9 election.
Campaign finance reports show contributions from some of the area’s wealthiest citizens, including a large number of Dallas millionaires.
The political action committee, Our Water, Our Future, supports incumbents Marty Leonard and Jim Lane and has raised the largest pot of most money so far. The PAC, with former Mayor Mike Moncrief as treasurer reported contributions of $447,633.
The Save North Texas Water political action committee, which was formed to unseat Lane and Leonard, supports the candidacies of Craig Bickley and Michele Von Luckner. Wealthy Dallas businessman Monty Bennett has been a major contributor to the PAC and candidates through MJB Operating L.P.
Extraordinary fundraising and spending had been predicted in this race as anger and dissatisfaction with the status quo at the TRWD has been escalating for several years. Critics charge the district administration with failing to follow open meeting laws, refusing to turn over public records as well as cronyism, nepotism and corruption.
Bennett was angered by the TRWD’s use of eminent domain to claim a portion of his East Texas ranch for the $2.3 billion IPL water pipeline without allowing him input. He infused thousands of dollars in the 2013 race to back three candidates challenging incumbents. One of three, Mary Kelleher, ousted an incumbent to claim a seat on the board.
Bennett has also sued the district over several issues.
For Lane, Leonard and their champions, this year’s race is about Bennett and his alleged interference in TRWD business. As CEO of a Real Estate Investment Trust, Bennett owns hotel properties in Fort Worth.
“Water is a precious resource,” Moncrief said in a statement. “Unfortunately, an outside special interest from Dallas is trying to take control of our local water supply.
“Our Water, Our Future is a local PAC formed to ensure we keep local Tarrant County stewardship of our local water supply,” Moncrief said.
Major contributors to the Our Water, Our Future Pac include the Betsy Price Campaign, $4,500; attorney Dee J. Kelly, $10,000; businessman John B. Kleinheinz, $25,000; Dallas auto dealership owner Carl Sewell, $25,000; Dallas-based liquor distributor Barry Andrews, $10,000; Texas Rangers co-owner and Dallas oil billionaire Ray Davis, $10,000; Dallas oil billionaire Ray Hunt, $25,000; Hunt heiress Lyda Hill, $5,000; Dallas software entrepreneur Milledge Hart III, $5,000; and Dallas oil billionare Trevor Rees-Jones, $10,000. Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton of Millsap also contributed $25,000.
The Fort Worth Bass family’s Good Government Fund and PSEL PAC each contributed $25,000 to Our Water, Our Future.
The Texas Progress Fund contributed $60,000, including $25,000 each from Ross Perot Jr. of Plano and Ed Bass of Fort Worth.
Bickley and Von Luckner lashed out at Lane and Leonard for accepting large sums of money from Dallasites after criticizing Bennett’s support of them.
“Jim and Marthy are speaking out of both sides of their mouths,” Von Luckner said. “They are taking thousands and thousands of dollars from numerous Dallas billionaires to try to beat us.
“They are trying to attack us because of campaign contributions from one Fort Worth business owner who happens to live in Dallas and who is negatively impacted by the TRW’s overreaching use of eminent domain.”
Individually, Bickley reported $64,303.74 in contributions and expenditures of $125.64.
Von Luckner reported $39,472.74 in contributions and expenditures of $8.20.
Leonard reported $75,908.19 in contributions and expenditures of $17,974.50.
Lane reported reported contributions of $75,108.19 and expenditures of $18,974.50.
Also running for the board, Keith Annis reported $15,370 in contributions, including $10,000 from Brian Annis of Tennessee and $4,000 from the Texas Democratic Party. He reported expenditures of $2,285.83.