George P. Bush's Conceivable Cronyism Conundrum

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush is facing a bit of a conundrum over multiple political donations. The Texas Tribune reported last week Bush, who is up for re-election this year, received campaign cash from executives of a Mississippi company after giving them a contract.

One company that is trying to help him out — in more ways than one — is Horne LLP, a big accounting firm that provides disaster recovery services to governments. On Oct. 30, 2017, the company signed a $13.47 million contract with the agency Bush oversees, the Texas General Land Office, to help with Harvey recovery efforts.

Three days later, more than two dozen Horne LLP executives helped out Bush with his re-election campaign, sending him $27,500 in political cash — including $1,000 from the Horne partner who signed the contract.

Bush’s political director scoffed at the notion this was “pay for play,” but Houston Chronicle found a few other suspect donations involving post Harvey recovery work.

In October, James W. Turner Construction won a $20 million from the GLO’s office to rebuild homes. A month earlier, James Turner, the president and CEO of the company, donated $5,000 to Bush’s re-election campaign.

A few months later, Windstorm Mitigation, a Florida-based company, signed a $9 million contract to install and maintain temporary housing units. But just over two weeks before the contract was signed on Dec. 15, Ken Cashin, the company’s president, gave $2,500 to Bush.

Now, it should be pointed out there was a bidding process before the contracts were handed out, although those details haven’t been released. It’s still problematic because it gives the appearance of base behavior, and it gives Democrats the chance to hit Bush on the issue during the General Election. It could also hurt Bush as he tries to further his political career, and keep the Bush American political dynasty going since he is Jeb’s son, George W.’s nephew, and George H.W.’s grandson.

The donations have received plenty of criticism from watchdog groups, including Texans for Public Justice, the group behind the 2014 bogus claim against former Governor Rick Perry. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Democrats attempt to use the Bush donations as a way to push the notion of banning certain political contributions or trying to get Citizens United overturned. These attempts would be a major fallacy because they still fall under the First Amendment in freedom of speech and freedom of association.

There’s another bit that’s extremely important for campaign finance reform advocates to remember: they were discovered by watchdogs who were able to look at Bush’s financial records. Why? Texas law requires politicians to file campaign finance information with the Texas Ethics Commission. Politicians also have to include campaign pledges, which are when someone promises to donate money to a campaign. They also have to report out of state donations, even those under $500 from a PAC, and have to disclose donations over $50. They’re also easily accessible for the pubic, and some politicians, including Governor Greg Abbott, let the media know when the campaign finance reports have been filed. Texas does have a ban on corporate and union donations, which is disappointing because both groups should be able to donate to candidates. There’s no reason to change any laws because they’re currently working, even if it means watchdogs need to keep a close eye on what money is going into the coffers of politicians.

The biggest point to all this is it highlights the importance of watchdogs, and, more importantly, the media in looking at various different campaign finance reports. Perhaps the national media needs to consider studying campaign finance reports better, so we know who is donating to who and why. It might be much better to make connections to why other donations were made to candidates. If John Doe runs a tech group, and donated to *insert national candidate’s name* because he received a federal contract for some project, isn’t it important for the public to know? Shouldn’t that be the story versus what celebrities are donating cash to *insert politician*? It’s something to consider going into the 2018 and 2020 elections. Something else to consider is whether there should be a rule requiring candidates to make their campaign finance data easily accessible on their websites, instead of just posting it on the FEC’s website.

The campaign contributions to George P. Bush’s campaign from state contract holders is problematic and an issue Bush will have to address, outside of his political director calling the story “fake news.” It’s the air of iniquity, which is something all politicians need to avoid, especially if they’re from some famous family. It will be interesting to see if the donations come back to haunt Bush, as former GLO Commissioner Jerry Patterson is seeking his old office because he’s unhappy with Bush’s policies, and there’s also a Democratic challenger for November. It doesn’t mean Bush’s political career is doomed, but it could hurt his chances.