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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

Bush's campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but Ash Wright, his political director, told the Chronicle that the issue was "the biggest nonstory in the history of nonstories." He noted that the relatively small amount of campaign cash in question is "a very small piece of Commissioner Bush's massive $3.3 million cash-on-hand."

Andrew Wheat, research director for the left-leaning ethics watchdog Texans for Public Justice, said that Bush's prodigious fundraising is one reason why he should decline to take donations from land office contractors.

"You're undermining your own reputation on the cheap," Wheat said. "Maybe he should make it his business to know (who's giving to his campaign) because the credibility of the state government and his own credibility is at stake."

Texas, Wheat noted, has a long history of contracting scandals.

"Unfortunately, I don't think he's all that unusual," Wheat said. "People in the business of contracting are very interested in developing relationships with people who dole out contracts."

When Bush entered office in January 2015, the Capitol was reeling from a contracting scandal at the Health and Human Services Commission that led to several officials being fired and the Legislature overhauling the state's procurement practices.

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In July 2015, the State Auditor's Office criticized the land office's handling of contracting for a five-year period almost entirely under Patterson's tenure and found that the agency failed to address conflicts of interest, used untrained contract managers, threw away invoices and vastly underestimated project costs.

Two months later, Bush announced that he had created a Contracts and Grants Review Committee to ensure the integrity of all land office contracts.

"The contracting and grant approval process must include layers of checks and balances to ensure fairness, value and transparency," he said in a press release.

The committee process, however, does not apply to emergency or disaster relief contracts, such as the one awarded to Horne LLP. Eck said that Bush was not involved in the bidder review process and did not sign the contract. Horne, she said, had the highest score among four applicants that were judged by "three senior staff members from the Community Development and Revitalization program that are managing the implementation of FEMA's direct housing programs for the state of Texas."

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