Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Spending power was fueled by a small but powerfully wealthy group of donors who made large contributions to Vote No!"

Trinity River toll road supporters lead in fundraising

October 30, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

With a week left before Dallas’ Trinity River toll road referendum, opponents of the road-killing Proposition 1 enjoy a significant fundraising advantage.

But proposition supporters say they have plenty of cash themselves to explain to voters why Dallas shouldn’t build a toll road within the Trinity River Corridor’s levee walls.

Vote No!, the main political group backing the construction of a high-speed toll road inside the Trinity River levees, has nearly $93,000 on hand, according to the latest and final round of campaign finance reports ahead of the November 6 citywide referendum on Proposition 1.

TrinityVote, the organization behind Proposition 1, which would in part limit any road construction within the Trinity River Corridor to four lanes and a 35 m.p.h. speed limit, reports just under $6,000 remaining as of Oct. 27.

The report also revealed that Vote No! spent more than $788,000 and raised more than $559,000 from Sept. 28 to Oct. 27. TrinityVote, meanwhile, took in more than $205,600 in contributions during the same period, while logging more than $92,500 in expenditures.

TrinityVote’s top contributor is outdoor advertising businessman Steve Millwee, who donated more than $100,000 in billboard space to the organization during the past filing period. Digital 3 Printing donated $21,000 to publish anti-toll road brochures and postcards.

As for direct contributions to TrinityVote, businessman Wesley Pool recorded two separate donations of $10,000, while attorney Fred Baron donated $10,000, according to the group’s latest filing.

For Vote No!, its money purchased television and radio ads as well as signs and direct mailings among other expenses. The spending power was fueled by a small but powerfully wealthy group of donors who made large contributions to Vote No!

Opponents of the toll road have long argued that it is a pet project of Dallas’s elite and indeed many well-known names appeared on Vote No!’s donor roll.

Among them was $50,000 donor Louis Beecherl, the former chief executive of Texas Oil & Gas and Bush family insider. Corporate takeover master Harold Simmons gave $25,000. Developer Lucy Billingsley and beer distributor Barry Andrews chipped in $15,000 each.

The Dallas Citizens Council also dropped a $97,000 donation, adding to the $200,000 it gave Vote No! earlier this year. Hillwood Development gave $50,000 and energy provider TXU donated $40,000.

Mayor Tom Leppert, who leads the Vote No! campaign, defended the fact that much of the campaign’s money came from a small number of wealthy Dallas residents.

“They don’t have a dog in this fight. You look at these people across the board and they are fundamentally interested in seeing Dallas do well,” he said.

Because Vote No! had only a short time to raise funds to explain a complicated issue, the mayor and other Vote No! leaders went to big dollar donors, he said.

“We had to get some very large donations to be able to get the message out,” he said.

TrinityVote’s leader, Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, noted that her organization is now running a television advertisement and continues to receive coffer-filling contributions.

“We have been getting our message out, and we’ve been really getting a lot of support in the last week,” Ms. Hunt said. “The more funds that we have to get our message out, the better off we’ll be.”

rbush@dallasnews.com and dlevinthal@dallasnews.com

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co www.dallasnews.com

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