FORT WORTH — A political action committee endorsing a $490 million Fort Worth school bond package received a $10,000 donation from the company hired by the district to oversee planning and pre-construction services for the bond.Citizens Supporting Classroom Excellence, a political action committee established by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, received a $10,000 corporate donation from AECOM Technology Corp. of Glen Allen, Va. AECOM Inc. of Los Angeles has been paid $27.8 million by the district since 2007 to manage projects and assess needed improvement or renovations to Fort Worth schools. The company lists the Glen Allen site as one of its offices.AECOM said it made the donation to help the PAC inform the public about the district’s proposed 2013 capital improvement program.Classroom renovations, additions, technology and security upgrades are included in the $490 million bond proposal, which goes before voters Tuesday. Early voting continues until 7 p.m. Friday. “We support the bond referendum and believe it is the right thing to do for the ultimate stakeholders, children in the Fort Worth ISD,” the company said in an email.The donation complies with the Texas Ethics Commission for a specific-use political action committee, according to AECOM’s statement.“There is nothing in the election code that explicitly prohibits that,” said Tim Sorrells, general counsel for the Texas Ethics Commission.Reporting donationsThree PACs have organized to support or oppose the bond.Campaign contribution reports are filed with the school district, which posts them online. Monday was the latest reporting deadline.Citizens Supporting Classroom Excellence raised $55,450 from Sept. 27 to Saturday. FWISD Parents for Kids raised $675 during the same period. A third political action group, It’s OK to Say No to the School Bond, did not have a report available on the district website Wednesday afternoon.The election code does not limit how much is donated to the political action committees, Sorrells said. AECOM’s donation and a $10,000 donation from Fort Worth businessman Ed Bass were the largest contributions reported by Citizens Supporting Classroom Excellence.Funds raised are used to promote the PAC’s agenda. For example, FWISD Parents for Kids volunteers have been walking neighborhoods on weekends to build voter awareness, said Keith Annis, the treasurer.“I’m confident,” Annis said of the measure. “As always I would like more people to participate in the Democratic process.”Texas election rules prohibits corporate donations to political action committees established for or against a political candidate, but they can support a specific-purpose committee related to measures decided by voters. “That prohibition doesn’t apply to a committee that supports or opposes measures exclusively,” Sorrells said.Raising ethics questionsThe donation raises ethical issues with some, however, including a school board trustee.“It is always worrisome when those who stand to benefit handsomely from a bond are among major donors, especially when AECOM is poised to continue to manage the bond without another vote,” said Trustee Ann Sutherland, who represents District 6. Sutherland said she plans to ask the full board to bid the work again if the bond proposal passes.“When a party has more than one interest operating, that is a conflict of interest. If they benefit from something they give to, that is a conflict of interest,” said James Campbell Quick, professor of leadership and organizational behavior at the University of Texas at Arlington.Quick questioned the appearance of the donation even though it is legal.“The ethics of it are questionable. Some things are legal even though they may not pass the ethics test,” Quick said.Allan Saxe, a political science professor at UTA, said AECOM’s donation is legitimate.“It doesn’t matter if they have an interest in the election or not,” Saxe said. “People can make up their own minds as long as it is reported correctly.”In a written statement, Superintendent Walter Dansby said such donations are not unusual. Nor did the donation raise eyebrows for the district, he said.“We are not concerned about the appearance of such donations because the donations are not to the Fort Worth ISD,” Dansby said. “The donations are intended for the political action committees which have no connection to the District. We don’t handle any money and we wouldn’t even know from whom the donations came if it wasn’t included on these reports.” This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1