McDonnell thanks campaign donors, others by hosting resort getaway

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's PAC will pay some retreat costs.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's PAC will pay some retreat costs. (Marvin Joseph/twp - The Washington Post)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 19, 2010

RICHMOND -- Dozens of Republican donors, business leaders and Richmond lobbyists had a relaxing day of golfing, hiking and swimming Friday at the posh Homestead resort, thanks to the hospitality of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.

McDonnell (R) hosted the two-day invitation-only getaway at the four-star mountain resort in Hot Springs, Va., for those who volunteered their money and time to the governor and his campaign.

"This is a way to thank individuals for their support of the governor and his PAC," McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said.

In addition to recreation, participants were treated to panel discussions about job creation, McDonnell's top priority, and a political update on Republican politics nationally.

All guests are paying their own way, although McDonnell's political action committee, Opportunity Virginia, will pay for some costs, such as Friday's continental breakfast and outdoor barbecue. The governor's staff members are taking vacation time to be there.

McDonnell's predecessors, Democrats Timothy M. Kaine and Mark R. Warner, did not host similar retreats, choosing instead to invite supporters to dinner at the governor's mansion or to more intimate events, according to their former staffers.

Although the practice of inviting supporters to a retreat -- and giving them access to senior staff members -- is new for the governor of Virginia, other politicians regularly hold such events.

And in Virginia, Democratic and Republican legislators also drive to the Homestead in the western part of the state each summer for their own retreats, which double as fundraisers. Hundreds of lobbyists and others attend the events, which raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. Kaine and Warner attended the Democratic legislative retreats while governor. This year, McDonnell went to the GOP event.

"You would have to be from another planet not to know this is the way it works,'' Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. "Every day, all summer along, all across the country, there are events like this. It's not a big deal."

Last month, about 300, including McDonnell, attended the House Republican caucus's sixth annual event at the Homestead, which raised $500,000. Hundreds are scheduled to attend next month's Democratic fundraiser for the House and Senate, also at the resort. The Democrats have been holding their joint event since the late 1980s.

"Every governor, every legislative caucus for two decades now has done something like this," former attorney general Jerry Kilgore (R) said while sitting by the Homestead pool Friday. "It's just a more relaxed way for people to get to know each other outside the halls of the General Assembly."

Dave Levinthal of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a government watchdog group in Washington, said that just because there are plenty of examples on the local, state and federal level doesn't make the retreat appropriate.

"Their proven relationship is paying dividends," he said. "The people who are coming are getting to talk, getting to make their case to the governor and his staff on whatever topic they want to. It's a sweet deal."

About 100 people attended McDonnell's retreat, including Jim Beamer and Jim Eck of Dominion Virginia Power, one of the most influential companies in the state; Bobbie Kilberg, president of the Northern Virginia Technology Council; lobbyists Steve Horton and Mike Thomas of the giant law firm McGuire Woods; and Ed Gillespie, a longtime Republican strategist who was chairman of McDonnell's campaign.

Most of McDonnell's Cabinet also attended, as did several other senior staffers, including Chief of Staff Martin Kent. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) was there.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II was invited but did not attend.

McDonnell, who played nine holes of golf Friday, also cut the ribbon on the Governor's Suite at Homestead, part of the resort's $4 million renovation. A commemorative plaque with a letter from McDonnell, along with a photo of his family, is displayed on a wall outside the suite.

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