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Bidness as Usual 

Firm that won $26 million contract donated to campaigns tied to supervisors and the mayor.

Wednesday, Mar 18 2009

This looks bad: In mid-January, the Board of Supervisors awarded a no-bid $26 million contract to AECOM, a multinational construction management company, to help manage the renovation of the city's aging water system.

This looks worse: Subsequent research shows that since 2007, AECOM has donated more than $45,000 to prominent political campaigns and organizations, including the Democratic County Central Committee, the local arm of the Democratic Party, which has four current supervisors on it and is now headed by ex-Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

In September, AECOM contributed $20,000 to the DCCC, which isn't subject to the $500 donation limit the city imposes on individual candidates. The DCCC played a major role in electing four new supervisors in November — which is to say that, if you were looking for an important organization in San Francisco to, ahem, "influence," this was a good place to start.

Political consultant Jim Ross, who often works for Peskin's rivals, says that while there's nothing illegal about the contribution, you might wonder, "What's a multinational consulting firm's interest in giving money to San Francisco's Democratic County Central Committee?"

Peskin, however, says he would be amazed if any of the supes on the committee knew AECOM had contributed to them by proxy. "Members of the Democratic Party don't even get lists of the contributors unless they ask," he says. "I'll bet you $50 they have no idea."

David Campos, the only supervisor to vote against the contract, says he didn't know the DCCC had received money from AECOM, and doubts any of his colleagues did. "I don't worry about [pay to play] with this contract," he says.

The DCCC isn't the only beneficiary of AECOM's generosity at City Hall. In 2007, AECOM gave $15,000 to Peskin's Muni-reform proposition (ballot measure committees aren't subject to donation limits). He says the donations to Prop. A were a natural fit for a construction company that works on transit. "I went to everybody who had an interest in the transportation sector," he says.

AECOM has also contributed to a campaign affiliated with Mayor Gavin Newsom, who appoints the people who run the Public Utilities Commission, the city agency that originally issued the $26 million contract. Two years ago, AECOM donated $10,000 to help defeat Prop. E, a measure opposed by Newsom that would have required him to answer questions before the Board of Supervisors.

An AECOM spokesperson could not be reached for comment. The mayor's press office hasn't returned calls or e-mails asking about Newsom's relationship with AECOM. Nor has the PUC returned calls asking whether its staffers knew they were awarding a massive no-bid contract to a major political contributor.

At least Campos acknowledges it looks bad that AECOM gave money to a committee that helped elect some of the supervisors who approved the contract. "I think that's something that should be discussed," he says, even as he stresses that he doubts AECOM got anything for its money.

By all means, everyone: Discuss.

Will Harper contributed to this report.

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs


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