A politically-connected construction firm in Wichita is challenging the award of the contract for building Wichita’s new airport terminal. When the Wichita Wichita City Council makes the decision, it will be impossible or difficult to gauge the impact of campaign contributions and political influence on the process.
The contract, worth about $100 million, was awarded to Dondlinger and Sons. But according to Wichita Eagle reporting, the city may award the contract to Key Construction. The reason is that Dondlinger may not have met bid requirements regarding disadvantaged business enterprises.
The decision the council will make is colored by the fact that executives of Key Construction and their spouses make a lot of campaign contributions to Wichita City Council members, both liberals and conservatives. A chart of these contributions for council members’ most recent election campaigns is at Wichita City Council Campaign Contributions from Key Construction.
Key’s political involvement has benefited it recently — almost. Last August the council decided to award Key a no-bid contract to build the garage as part of the Ambassador Hotel project. The no-bid cost of the garage was to be $6 million, according to a letter of intent. All council members except Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) voted for the no-bid contract to Key Construction, although Mayor Carl Brewer was absent. It is certain that he would have voted with the majority, however. Later the city decided to place the contract for bid. Key Construction won the bidding, but for a price some $1.3 million less.
Did Key’s political involvement and campaign contributions play a role in the council awarding the company a no-bid contract? Key Construction executives and their spouses are among a small group who routinely make maximum campaign contributions to candidates. These candidates are both liberal and conservitive, which rebuts the presumption that these contributions are made for ideological reasons, that is, agreeing with the political positions of candidates. Instead, Key Construction and a few others are political entrepreneurs. They seek to please politicians and bureaucrats, and by doing so, receive no-bid contracts. This form of cronyism is harmful to Wichita taxpayers, as shown by the Ambassador Hotel garage.
The awarding of the no-bid contract to Key is even more surprising in light of Key’s past performance building garages. According to Wichita Eagle reporting on Key’s recent garage contracts: “The most recent, the 2008 WaterWalk Place garage built by Key Construction, an original partner in the WaterWalk project, came in $1.5 million over budget at almost $8.5 million. That’s the biggest parking garage miss, according to figures from the city’s office of urban development, although the 2004 Old Town Cinema garage built by Key Construction came in almost $1 million over budget at $5.225 million.”
Now the city council will decide whether to award a large construction contract to this firm. In light of the facts above, you have to wonder why the council would consider this firm.
But then, that’s politics, fueled by campaign contributions. This is another example of why Wichita and Kansas need pay-to-play laws.