As the race for two seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District enters the final week, campaign donations and spending continue to pile up to court voters.
The divide between two distinct blocs of candidates, incumbents Jim Lane and Marty Leonard, and challengers Craig Bickley and Michele Von Luckner, is growing more intense as the two sides jab each other through attack ads and campaign appearances.
Keith Annis, the fifth candidate, is unaffiliated with either group in the race in which the top two finishers win the seats.
In the second reporting period, contributions soared above the $500,000 that was recorded in the reporting period that ended April 9. Campaign finance reports released Friday, eight days ahead of the May 9 election, showed tens of thousands more has been raised – and spent – in the past few weeks of the campaign.
Our Water, Our Future, a political action committee, supporting Lane and Leonard, raised another $75,150 on top of the $447,633 reported previously. The PAC reported spending $270,427.58 on the campaigns of the incumbents, with a majority of the money paid to Norfleet Strategies of Austin.
Recent top contributors include developer John Goff of Fort Worth, who contributed $25,000; Robert Patton Jr., co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, $10,000; and G. Malcolm Louden, $10,000.
With former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief as treasurer, the PAC’s contributors include Dallas area billionaires such as Ross Perot Jr., oilmen Trevor Rees-Jones and Ray Hunt. Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton has also made contributions. Fort Worth billionaires such as members of the Bass family have also contributed large sums.
Moncrief said the PAC’s goal is to “keep local Tarrant County stewardship of our local water supply.”
Individually, Lane reported campaign contributions of $98,975.99 and expenses of $250; Leonard reported contributions of $125,510.99 and expenses of $7,817.17.
The Save North Texas Water political action committee supports Bickley and Von Luckner, who are campaigning for reform in TRWD operating practices and a change in top administrative leadership. Wealthy Dallas business Monty Bennett, who also owns hotel properties in Fort Worth, supports this PAC through MJB Operating L.P
Bennett has been fighting the TRWD’s use of eminent domain to claim a piece of his East Texas Ranch for the $2.3 billion pipeline that will bring water faster to the Dallas-Fort Worth area from Cedar Creek and Richland-Chamber reservoirs. Bennett has sued the TRWD several times, including a pending suit alleging that the district violated state open meeting laws by failing to allow him input on the IPL route.
Bennett spent thousands of dollars in the 2013 election that ousted one incumbent and seated Mary Kelleher, one of candidates he supported. Incumbents Vic Henderson and Jack Stevens were re-elected in that race.
Bickley reported contributions of $112,833.28 and expenses of $1,158.60. Von Luckner reported contributions of $112,498.27 and expenses of $1,135.48. Both reported non-monetary in-kind contributions of $111,878.27, mostly from MJB Operating for political advertising.
Annis reported contributions of $11,232.93 and expenses of $13,624.56. Most of his contributions were in small amounts except for a $5,000 donation from Brian K. Annis.
The Clean Water Committee – a political action committee supporting Lane, Leonard, Henderson and Stevens – reported contributions of $1,750. Stevens reported political expenditures of $1,796.76.
Among the spate of attack ads, an ad produced by Our Water, Our Future on behalf of Lane and Leonard accused of Bennett of being a puppet-master controlling Bickley, Von Luckner and Kelleher.
Bickley, Von Luckner and Kelleher accuse the TRWD of cronyism, nepotism, violating Texas open laws and skirting state open records rules.