A political action committee created to persuade voters to approve the Austin district’s $1.1 billion school bond referendum has raised $358,000, four times the amount raised to lobby in favor of the district’s last bond, in 2013.
The stakes are higher for this bond, political watchers say, because two of the four propositions failed four years ago — the first time in at least 25 years that Austin voters shot down a funding request for public schools. This time, the school board has put before voters a single, all-or-nothing bond initiative.
The Committee for Austin’s Children PAC has stepped up the pace, launching the campaign and fundraising efforts earlier than those who lobbied for the 2013 bond. One goal is to increase turnout over the 39,000 voters who cast ballots in the May 2013 school bond. About $130,000 already has been spent on direct mailers, and block-walkers have talked to at least 30,000 at their homes. Volunteers and some paid campaign workers also have reached thousands by phone.
Election Day is Nov. 7. Early voting ends Friday.
“This is a critical test for the school district and losing would have a negative impact on moving AISD into the future,” said David Butts, political consultant for the pro-bond campaign. “There is a heightened urgency.”
Former Trustee Lori Moya, who served on the school board during the 2013 bond campaign, said she sees greater advocacy for the bonds among sitting trustees, as well as parents on social media.
“What I’m seeing now from the outside looking in is the group working on the bond has a very strategic, well thought-out plan for what they want to do and what they want to promote and advocate for the bond,” Moya said.
During the most recent reporting period, which covers Sept. 28 through Oct. 28, the Committee for Austin’s Children raised $173,000. The pro-bond contributions are 11 times more than two anti-bond groups have raised, campaign records show.
One of the largest single donations to the Austin’s Children PAC came from AECOM, the consultants who helped assess the condition of the district’s facilities and shaped the master plan that helped the school board decide which projects to include in the bond. The $25,000 contribution tops the list of the most recent reporting period. As was the case in the 2013 bond, other businesses and construction companies in the school-building industry have contributed to the pro-bond campaign, financing that critics of the bond measure have questioned. About $109,000 so far has been given directly by engineering, architecture and construction companies.
“Taxpayers and voters should be disgusted at the crony capitalism AISD is sponsoring,” said former City Council Member Don Zimmerman, who leads the anti-bond group, the Travis County Taxpayers Union. The group contends that the district does not need more than $1 billion in improvements, and that school leaders are misleading voters about the tax impact of the bond.
“AECOM stands to profit tens of millions from wasteful projects, and $25,000 is a small tip for those profits,” Zimmerman said.
The two groups lobbying against the bond have raised a total of about $32,000, with almost all that money raised by the taxpayers’ union. This reporting period, the group raised $27,000.
One of the largest single donations, $10,000, given to the taxpayers’ union came from Hock LLC, a financial services technology consulting firm that is co-owned by Stacy Hock, who serves on the Texas Public Policy Foundation and on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s education council.
The grass-roots Save East Austin Schools, which has raised equity concerns on how the bond funds would be dispersed, has raised less than $500 and is not required to file campaign finance reports, organizers said.
Committee for Austin’s Children PAC
Total donations: $358,000
Largest donations this reporting period:
$25,000: AECOM Technology Corp.
$10,000: Ann Richards Foundation
$10,000: Catellus Development Corp.
$10,000: Stratus Properties
$10,000: Texas Disposal Systems Inc.
$8,000: Lyft Inc.
$5,000: Austin Business Furniture
$5,000: Austin Chamber of Commerce
$5,000: International Bancshares Corp.
$5,000: Midtown Group Inc.
$5,000 Texas Gas
Travis County Taxpayers Union PAC
Total donations: $32,000
Largest donations this reporting period:
$10,000: Continental General Agency (insurance)
$10,000: Hock LLC (financial services technology consulting firm co-owned by vice chair of a state education commission)
Save East Austin Schools PAC
Group has not yet filed a campaign finance report because donations have not exceeded $500.