Big money in Plano politics is again backing city council candidates who favor real estate developers over city taxpayers—including money from a political action committee bankrolled exclusively by development interests and Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere.
We Love Plano PAC, which presents itself as a group of Plano citizens, has raised $70,000 to push the mayor’s picks for city council. But the PAC’s latest campaign finance report reveals all their money is from developer interests and the Harry LaRosiliere campaign.
The PAC didn’t include any donor “occupation” or “employer” information in its publicly available filing, but Texas Scorecard tracked down donors’ business affiliations to see why the mostly non-Plano residents might want to help elect candidates who the Plano mayor said would “help me over the rest of my term.”
The Plano City Council slate bankrolled by LaRosiliere’s and developers’ special interest money includes incumbents Rick Grady (Place 3) and Ron Kelley (Place 5), and open-seat candidates Maria Tu (Place 1) and Ann Bacchus (Place 7). Grady and Kelley have both voted for higher city property tax burdens every year since taking office.
We Love Plano PAC reports spending about $39,000 promoting the mayor’s slate, all paid to political consulting firm Murphy Nasica (misspelled “Nasia” on their report). A single $35,933 advertising expense described only as “grassroots” presumably was spent on paid door-knockers and We Love Plano mailers targeting senior voters that included applications for mail-in ballots.
The PAC also gave a combined $20,500 in cash directly to the four candidates, according to candidates’ April campaign finance reports: $2,000 each to Tu and Grady, $3,500 to Kelley, and $13,000 to Bacchus. (The direct cash contributions to the candidates are not listed on the PAC’s report.) LaRosiliere’s campaign donated $1,776 directly to Bacchus as well, on top of the $15,000 contributed to We Love Plano PAC.
In addition to the cash, Tu, Grady, Kelley, and Bacchus each reported in-kind donations from We Love Plano PAC in the amount of $9,744—a quarter of the PAC’s total expenditures—for what they also describe only as “grassroots.”
Reports filed in January and April show high-density developers are also directly supporting the mayor’s candidates.
Commercial real estate developer Sam Ware donated $1,000 each to the slate. Ware’s company Dreien Opportunity Partners is behind the controversial 795-unit apartment complex at the former J.C. Penney corporate headquarters site in Legacy West.
Dreien partner Jeffrey Blakely also donated $1,000 to all four of the mayor’s picks, as did developer Henry Billingsley of Dallas-based Billingsley Company. Billingsley master-planned Plano’s urban mixed-use Beacon Square development, and recently filed plans to develop four new office buildings in Plano.
Jack Dawson, executive vice president of development company Centurion American, donated $1,000 each to Kelley and Bacchus; Laura Wayland of Centurion gave $1,000 each to Tu and Grady. Centurion is the company redeveloping Plano’s Collin Creek Mall into a mixed-use project.
Outside special interest money is nothing new in Plano politics. LaRosiliere raised over $300,000 for his 2017 re-election campaign; more than $175,000 came from individuals and PACs with ties to developers or their financiers, apartment projects, and other special interests from outside Plano.
Their investments appear to have paid off. The mayor has continued to push an unpopular high-density policy that aims to urbanize the suburb at the behest of developers, despite near-unanimous opposition from Plano homeowners, earning him the nickname “High-Density Harry.”
The political outsiders challenging the mayor’s coalition—Daniel Long (Place 1), Colleen Aguilar-Epstein (Place 3), Shelby Williams (Place 5), and Lily Bao (Place 7)—say they favor responsible growth that maintains Plano’s current suburban identity and doesn’t overtax residents or give special deals to developers at the expense of residents.
“I like Chicago-style pizza. I do not like Chicago-style politics,” Williams said at a forum this week hosted by Plano Moms, noting the We Love Plano PAC’s exclusive reliance on special interest money.
Williams also says the PAC’s mailer endorsing the mayor’s slate of candidates contains false information. The mailer claims the group “met with all the candidates for City Council this year,” but Williams said the group never even reached out to any of the other candidates, let alone met with them.
Plano citizens can follow the money for themselves to determine which candidates put developers’ interests first, and who prioritizes the interests of Plano taxpayers.
Early voting in Plano’s May 4 municipal election begins Monday, April 22.
- Aquatech Saltwater Disposal aka ASD Legacy ($25,000) is a Denton-based company that manages oilfield and fracking wastewater. ASD managing partner Eric Schmitz also manages a number of limited liability real estate development companies.
- James Feagin ($25,000) of Dallas is chairman/CEO of Addison-based Scarborough Lane Development, a developer of residential and commercial real estate. As president of Landmark Interest, Feagin worked with developer Sam Ware on projects including Travis Ranch in Kaufman and Rockwall counties and Lakes of Arlington. Ware donated $1,000 directly to each of the mayor’s four candidates.
- Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere ($15,000) made multiple donations via his campaign account ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 between February 25 and March 20.
- Steve Folsom ($1,000) of Addison is a Dallas-area real estate developer. His Addison-based Folsom Companies has developed commercial real estate and apartment complexes throughout the DFW metroplex. Steve’s father, former Dallas Mayor Robert Folsom, was also a multimillion-dollar real estate developer. The Folsom family was one of the original land developers in the Town of Prosper.
- Randy Heady ($1,000) of Dallas founded Heady Investments, a Dallas-area developer of commercial real estate with major projects in Plano, Frisco, North Dallas, and Richardson.
- Dave Johnson ($1,000) of Plano is CEO and chairman of Plano-based Aimbridge Hospitality, the nation’s largest independent hotel development and management company.
- Mark Lewis ($1,000) of Dallas is a developer with Heady Investments. Lewis and Heady posed with LaRosiliere last July at the groundbreaking for Heady’s Headquarters II mixed-use commercial development in Plano.
- Mehul Patel ($1,000) of Southlake is CEO of NewcrestImage, a hotel development and management company based in Lewisville that has projects underway in Plano, Frisco, and throughout the metroplex.
- Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere is an indirect beneficiary of the PAC’s efforts. In a campaign fundraising email sent March 1, LaRosiliere urged his supporters to send him money to help elect the candidates he said “will help me over the rest of my term”—the same four candidates benefitting from We Love Plano PAC money.
- Maria Tu (Place 1 candidate) received $2,000 in cash and $9,744 “in kind” from We Love Plano PAC. Accepted cash from developers Sam Ware ($1,000), Jeff Blakely ($1,000), Laura Wayland ($1,000), Henry Billingsley ($1,000). Tu is a political newcomer who identifies as Republican but is backed by Democrats.
- Rick Grady (Place 3 incumbent) received $2,000 in cash and $9,744 “in kind” from We Love Plano PAC. Accepted cash from developers Sam Ware ($1,000), Jeff Blakely ($1,000), Laura Wayland ($1,000), Henry Billingsley ($1,000).
- Ron Kelley (Place 5 incumbent) received $3,500 in cash and $9,744 “in kind” from We Love Plano PAC. Accepted cash from developers Sam Ware ($1,000), Jeff Blakely ($1,000), Jack Dawson ($1,000), Henry Billingsley ($1,000).
- Ann Bacchus (Place 7 candidate) received $13,000 in cash and $9,744 “in kind” from We Love Plano PAC, and $1,776 in cash directly from the Harry LaRosiliere campaign. Accepted cash from developers Sam Ware ($1,000), Jeff Blakely ($1,000), Jack Dawson ($1,000), Henry Billingsley ($1,000). Bacchus is a former Democrat precinct chair who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2017.