Is the Prop 1 PAC running a campaign for Republican Rail?

This is the first post in a two-part series on the supposed partisan or ideological aspects of the city of Austin bond proposition (“Prop 1”). Today’s topic is funding sources behind the Let’s Go Austin PAC. The second post will cover the widespread opposition to Prop 1 among progressive candidates for City Council.

If you’re a registered voter in Austin, you’ve probably received a mailer from the Let’s Go Austin (LGA) PAC telling you to vote for the city’s $1 billion roads-and-rail bond proposition, informally known as Prop 1. As our readers probably know, we oppose Prop 1, and have spent the past two years showing why this rail plan is worse than nothing. Unfortunately, the LGA PAC has favored ideological attacks over a campaign on the merits of the plan. Therefore, we think it is now relevant to examine the funding sources behind the LGA PAC and its expensive campaign. As it turns out, a look at the relevant filings reveals that the LGA PAC is largely funded by deep-pocketed Republican donors.

The LGA PAC’s campaign has attempted to portray voting for the bond as a “progressive” or partisan choice: their latest mailer (pictured below) asks readers to “know whose side you are on,” and past ads have even attempted to tar AURA by grouping it in a list with the Austin Tea Party.

Recent Let's Go Austin PAC Mailer

If partisanship is relevant to Prop 1, then this is an important finding: a review of the LGA PAC’s latest campaign finance report reveals that much of its funding comes from major donors to Republican Party candidates and causes. The LGA PAC’s portrayal of Prop 1 as a progressive choice thus appears to be another in its series of deliberate efforts to distract and mislead Austin voters. Frankly, it would be fairer to describe Prop 1 as a plan for “Republican Rail.”

According to its September 25th report, the LGA PAC had raised $485,876 from 78 donors, an average donation of $6,229. (A grassroots campaign this is not.) By far the largest ‘donation’ came from the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), which contributed $253,000, though it would be more accurate to call that money ‘an investment.’ The DAA is a Public Improvement District funded by property owners in the eastern and central portions of downtown Austin whose property is worth more than $500,000. If the proposed rail line were built, the members of the DAA would gain millions in localized benefits while the billion-dollar costs would be diffused to all Austinites. And these ‘socialize the risk, privatize the profit’ incentives aren’t the only problem with the DAA’s money. DAA’s treasurer, Carol Polumbo—also an individual donor to the LGA PAC—is managing partner of McCall, Parkhurst & Horton, L.L.P., a law firm with an extensive history of large donations to statewide Republicans, including more than $75,000 to Greg Abbott.

The next largest donation to the LGA PAC is $75,000 from the Greater Austin Economic Development Corporation (EDC), an arm of the Chamber of Commerce which receives funding from the City of Austin and other local governments. Public money is arguably being laundered through the EDC to spend on the bond campaign. Moreover, the Chamber itself is not exactly a champion of progressive causes: recall its opposition to the new generation plan for Austin Energy, which would make Austin’s power some of the cleanest in the nation.

The third largest donor to the LGA PAC is the Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA), which contributed $25,000. RECA also has a long history of contributing to Republicans, including $50,000 to Rick Perry and more than $63,000 to David Dewhurst. A quick search of RECA’s history in the Texas Tribune’s campaign finance databasefinds at least $180,000 in contributions to major Republicans.

The Republican donor trend continues with individuals, corporations, and PACs that donated to the LGA PAC in the $1,000–$5,000 range. A set of eight donors who gave $36,500 to the LGA PAC (almost 30% of the funds we have not yet detailed here) also contributed more than $700,000 to a veritable Who’s Who of the Texas Republican Party.

All told, the LGA PAC’s donors and DAA board members have contributed more than a million dollars to Republican campaigns. If you were to apply the Let’s Go Austin PAC’s preferred campaign strategy, you’d say that a vote for Prop 1 is a vote for Dan Patrick!

Given this funding base, perhaps it’s no wonder Prop 1 sacrifices the rest of Austin’s transit system to benefit a handful of private business owners and real estate developers. Funneling taxpayer money into private hands is the very essence of the Texas Republican Party’s ‘business friendly’ agenda, and a similar agenda is at the center of the Let’s Go Austin PAC’s campaign. Just follow the money.

To ensure we don’t damage our already inadequate transit system and to retain the opportunity to invest a billion dollars in other progressive projects—libraries, parks, housing the homeless, investing in clean energy, and many, many others—Austin voters should join transit activists in making the truly progressive choice: Vote NO on Prop 1.