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George P. Bush reaped $129,000 from contractors at the agency he leads

Sean Collins Walsh, Julie Chang and Christian McDonald, Austin American-Statesman on

Published in News & Features

AUSTIN, Texas -- Since George P. Bush took over the Texas General Land Office in 2015, the agency has awarded about $164 million worth of state contracts to 12 companies with employees or political committees that have donated to Bush's campaign, public records show.

Together, the 12 companies and their employees have given at least $129,000 to Bush's campaign.

Companies seeking state business frequently give money to Texas politicians involved in contracting decisions, which is allowed under state law. At least seven of those companies, for instance, also did work for the land office before Bush's tenure, and at least eight of the companies or their employees have given money to his predecessor, Jerry Patterson, who is running to reclaim his old job from Bush in the March 6 GOP primary.

Ethics watchdogs have long contended that the confluence of political contributions and state contracts undermines the public's confidence in state government.

Bush spokeswoman Brittany Eck said there was no connection between the donations and the land office's decisions to award the contracts and stressed that the agency takes great lengths to ensure the integrity of its procurement process.

Recent scrutiny of contracting at the land office, which is handling the state's emergency housing services after Hurricane Harvey, began when the Texas Tribune last week revealed that more than two dozen employees of the Horne LLP consulting group gave Bush a combined $27,500 in political contributions three days after the agency awarded the firm a $13.5 million contract to assist with financial oversight of Harvey-related projects.

 

The Houston Chronicle last Friday reported that James W. Turner Construction won a $20 million land office contract in October -- a month after its president and CEO gave Bush $5,000 -- and that Florida-based Windstorm Mitigation won a $9 million contract to install temporary housing units two weeks after its president gave Bush $2,500.

At least nine other companies tied to political contributions to Bush have won contracts from the land office during his tenure, according to an Austin American-Statesman analysis of contracting records from the agency and the Legislative Budget Board and campaign finance data from the Texas Ethics Commission.

The single biggest group of contributors came from the high-powered Bracewell law firm. Its attorneys and political committee have combined to give $34,500 to Bush over the past few years. In September, the land office awarded the firm a $239,000 legal services contract.

The Statesman excluded instances in which the contractor's employees gave less than $500.

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