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ABC-7 I-Team looks into big money behind school board candidates: What do donors get out of it?

Big campaign contributions are flowing to school board races. The ABC-7 I-team found campaign finance reports showing the top two fundraisers, Dori Fenenbock and Al Velarde, raised just about $18,000 each for the race. If they are unpaid volunteers, why are others so eager to donate big bucks to get these candidates elected?

“Here like anywhere else, there’s a sizable group of people who make donations,” said UTEP Political Science Ph.D Greg Rocha.

The big donors are names you heard before, such as Woody Hunt, Amy O’Rourke and Richard Castro. They can be found on numerous trustee candidate finance reports, along with names like Oscar Leeser and Paul Foster all donating to school board candidates across the country.

“The largest dollars are going to state and federal taxes for schools,” said EPISD Board President Dee Margo, although he will lose that title once the elected trustees are sworn in.

More than $1.3 billion in state and federal money flows into El Paso county school districts. EPISD’s $480 million budget is bigger than the city, if you take out non-governmental functions; bigger than UMC’s, and two times bigger than the county’s.
And it’s up to trustees to oversee this budget.

“It’s a travesty that we’ve had such low turnout for so long and elected such incompetent or corrupt trustees in the past,” Margo said.

Turnout is even lower during May elections. Margo says donating to quality candidates helps get the word out. But what’s in it for the donors?

“Maybe access on an issue of education that a trustee might make,” Rocha said. “Well, I made a donation. I assume that candidate is aware that I made that donation, so when I make that call, at a minimum they’ll listen to me.”

Margo disagrees.

” I think it’s purely altruism on their part,” Margo said. “I do not sense any form of quid pro quo, or economic gain, or the potential of economic gain. The potential for the economic gain is for the entire community.”

Margo said that because stronger students lead to a stronger workforce. He does not believe upcoming bond elections are influencing donors, since none are looking to land contracts. He said they’re interested in school district running properly.

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