RICHMOND -- Eighteen Republican politicians in Virginia have contributed to a conservative political action committee that is trying to unseat members of their party who supported tax increases in 2004.
The contributions made to the Virginia Conservative Action PAC total $17,075, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan database of campaign contributions. The four-year-old PAC says it is working to defeat five of the 17 House Republicans who bucked their party's anti-tax orthodoxy last year and joined with Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).
Lawmakers rarely contribute to candidates or organizations that hope to unseat their brethren. Indeed, at a news conference the last day of the 2005 legislative session, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said that his caucus "will support each of our incumbents" in the June 14 primaries. He was flanked by dozens of delegates, who roared with approval.
The donations by candidates, members of the General Assembly and Congress and local government officials were made between April and December 2004.
Among the contributors were former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, the GOP's likely nominee for governor, and Del. M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights), the House majority whip. Also contributing were two candidates for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, Sen. Bill Bolling (Hanover) and Sean T. Connaughton, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
U.S. legislators included Rep. Eric I. Cantor, who represents Virginia's 7th Congressional District; Rep. Jo Ann S. Davis, who represents the 1st District; and Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. of the 5th District.
The Republican delegates targeted by the PAC are Harry J. Parrish (Manassas), Robert D. "Bobby" Orrock Sr. (Spotsylvania), Edward T. Scott (Culpeper), Joe T. May (Loudoun) and Gary A. Reese (Fairfax). The PAC also is backing a candidate to replace retiring Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax).
"Does it please me? Not a great deal," said May, who had considered a bid for lieutenant governor. He is being challenged for his House seat by Leesburg lawyer Christopher Oprison. "It's disappointing maybe, but politics is a full-contact sport."
Politicians or their staff members interviewed for this report said that when they contributed to the PAC, the organization had not made a decision about whether to run candidates against the maverick Republicans. They said they had no indication the group, which had raised $204,000 as of Dec. 31, would seek to oust their colleagues.
"VCAP had as its stated goal that they did not, at that time, plan to oppose incumbents," said Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg), who gave $500 on Oct. 21.
When asked whether he was going to request that his money be returned because the direction of the group had changed, Newman echoed each politician interviewed: "No, no, I'm not. I don't think that would be appropriate."
Several politicians said they backed the incumbents. In some cases, they said the contributions simply involved the purchase of tickets for them or members of their staffs to a pair of fundraisers featuring national conservative luminaries in the fall.
"We contributed the money in support of a dinner for [columnist] Ann Coulter . . . we're not going to ask for the money back," said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Kilgore, who gave $1,000.
"The incumbents know they have Jerry's support," Murtaugh said.