Unpleasant aroma coming from Fort Worth-area water board race

Posted Tuesday, May. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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There’s a stink coming from the piles of campaign money flowing into Saturday’s Tarrant Regional Water District board election.

Required financial reports show that two Dallas men have dropped megabucks — at least $225,000 — on the campaign of one of three challengers seeking to oust three board incumbents. Both donors own property in the path of a $2.3 billion pipeline planned to bring drinking water to Dallas and Fort Worth from East Texas reservoirs.

One big giver, hotel magnate Monty Bennett, sued the water district in March, seeking to halt work on the pipeline because of board decisions allegedly made in secret meetings.

Bennett gave $105,000 to Austin-based Hillco PAC in three installments last month. Hillco followed the installments with similar contributions to the campaign of John Austin Basham, who has run unsuccessfully for the water board twice in the past without such huge financial support. Bennett’s gifts alone are several times the cost of a typical water board race.

The second donor is investor and businessman Bennie M. Bray, who gave Basham’s campaign $100,000 on April 30.

Basham, in turn, spent almost $125,000 by May 1, some of it to help two other challengers running with him: Timothy Nold and Mary Kelleher. Dwayne Herring also seeks a board seat.

The incumbents are Vic Henderson, Hal S. Sparks III and Jack R. Stevens. All seven names are on the ballot; the three with the most votes will win.

The incumbents’ main fundraising effort, the Clean Water Committee, had raised a paltry $36,000 by May 1.

The race started to stink when campaign mailers from Basham, Nold and Kelleher stretched truth beyond even political bounds. They accused the board of “spending millions of our tax dollars on selfish perks,” including a “luxury helicopter with leather interior.” The helicopter is an aged four-seater that could hardly instill confidence, much less luxury, in the mind of a potential rider.

The three complain of pollution in the Trinity River. A common complaint, but other agencies also bear some responsibility.

They say the board has not done enough to ensure future water supplies for Fort Worth and the rest of the district.

So why do they take such huge contributions from a landowner who wants to stop a major pipeline dedicated to bringing in more water?

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