Developers Pouring Cash Into Va. Campaigns

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 23, 2005

RICHMOND -- Virginia's developers, home builders and real estate agents have more than doubled their campaign contributions from four years ago, a sign that their businesses are flying high and that tensions over growth and sprawl are rising.

Flush with money from a booming housing market, the real estate and construction industries have become the most generous group of campaign donors for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and independent H. Russell Potts Jr.

By the end of September, real estate developers had given this year's statewide candidates $3.4 million, according to data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. By contrast, developers gave $1.4 million to the statewide candidates in the 2001 elections.

Home builders, who gave about $143,000 to statewide candidates in 2001, have quadrupled their political giving during the 2005 campaign, donating more than $573,000 to the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Real estate agents increased their contributions from nearly $460,000 to about $848,000.

Michael L. Toalson, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, said the largess from his member companies is evidence that they remain "ever vigilant" against legislation or regulations that would hamper the construction of new homes in such rapidly growing areas as Northern Virginia.

"We take this seriously," Toalson said last week. "This is not a game to us. Every single day, when I come to work, we take the task of this threat very, very seriously. We work hard to keep a favorable housing climate."

The industry has successfully resisted legislators' efforts to grant localities more power to regulate development, an issue that comes up more frequently as the slow-growth movement gains advocates in Washington's outer suburbs. Development interests encourage state spending on services, such as roads and transit, that support new communities.

Most of the money from real estate interests and developers was evenly split between Kaine and Kilgore. Potts, a Republican state senator from Winchester who has struggled to raise money, took in $348,000 of his $1.2 million from the industry, much of it from Northern Virginia developer John T. "Til" Hazel.

Kilgore, the former attorney general, promises to oppose slow-growth measures that builders and developers dislike. He also has proposed to allow regional tax referendums to raise money for roads, something many developers and builders support.

"He is the better candidate to readily address the transportation needs, which are vital to the housing industry," Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh said. "He understands that government should not be in the business of telling people where to live."

Kaine's platform includes a promise to link transportation and land-use planning. This month, Kaine stunned some developers and builders by saying he would push for a law giving local governments the authority to stop construction if nearby roads are not sufficient.

Many developers oppose such rules. Prince William County land-use lawyer John Foote called it a "death knell for economic development in Northern Virginia."

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