DCS Board President Accepted Large Campaign Donations from Bus Camera Vendor

Camera program contributed to $42 million DCS budget gap

NBC 5 Investigates has obtained records showing Larry Duncan, president of the Dallas County Schools Board of Trustees, accepted more than $200,000 in campaign contributions from people tied to the bus camera company with which DCS partnered on a program that has left the district struggling to pay its bills.

Campaign finance records show since 2012, Duncan received about $245,000 from employees of Force Multiplier Solutions, family members and other associates including the company's chief executive officer, Robert Leonard, who contributed $150,000.

All of Duncan's other campaign donations combined since 2009 totaled only about $8,600.

Check records show DCS has paid Force Multiplier and its predecessor company more than $50 million, much of that for bus camera equipment.

Duncan defended accepting the campaign contributions from the company, saying they were legal and did not cloud his judgment in any way.

"Every penny is legal, honest, open and ethical. The state legislators set up this system so that people like me could hold office and run for office, and the system is working," Duncan said.

When asked if accepting contributions like this could give the impression that business at DCS is for sale, Duncan responded, "No, it's not, and I will not stand for my reputation being questioned. Twenty years I've been in public service."

DCS and Force Multiplier partnered to launch a business together in which DCS bought Force Multiplier cameras and then gave them to other school districts for free.

In return, DCS got a cut of the fines collected from tickets given to people who run past school bus stop signs. But the program didn't collect as much as DCS expected, and it's now at least $20 million behind, according to the agency's new chief financial officer.

"If you see any elected official who has the overwhelming majority of his campaign contributions from a single source, that is a red flag," said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Jillson says the donations raise big questions about ethics and influence.

"So it's a direct relationship between very, very large – unexpectedly large – campaign contributions and then a contract for services that has gone south," Jillson said.

NBC 5 Investigates asked Duncan whether the rest of the DCS board was aware he had accepted contributions of that size from this vendor.

"I don't know. There's no way I could know that," Duncan said.

When asked if they should have been made aware, Duncan responded, "It was all open and reported publicly."

Records show Duncan donated some of the money he received to other members of the DCS board and also to candidates for the Dallas City Council and the school board at the Dallas Independent School District.

The city council passed the bus camera ordinance that allows DCS to operate the stop-arm cameras, and Dallas ISD is Dallas County Schools's biggest customer for bus service.

So DCS has a direct interest in those two organizations.

Just last week, DCS disbanded the camera program it operated outside of Dallas County and laid off 93 employees.

NBC 5 Investigates reached out to the CEO of Force Multiplier Solutions for comment Monday but he did not immediately respond.

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