Va. GOP Has Million-Dollar Fund-Raising Lead
By Craig Timberg and Margot Williams
Virginia Republicans have a $1 million edge over Democrats in campaign cash in this legislative election year, an advantage that GOP leaders hope will swing key races and allow them to complete their decade-long drive to take over state government.
Campaign finance reports filed this month also show a surge in giving by the trash industry in the months before the legislature began debating whether to limit landfill expansions and to ban garbage barges on Virginia waterways.
The reports, which cover $4.8 million in donations made during the last six months of 1998, also reflect tenacious fund-raising by state Sen. Emily Couric (D-Charlottesville), a possible candidate for lieutenant governor in 2001 who reported receiving more than $150,000 -- nearly twice the amount raised by any other member of the General Assembly. Among other things, Couric raised $50,000 at an October party thrown by author John Grisham.
These are among the findings of a Washington Post analysis of campaign donations tracked by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit group sponsored by The Post, state news organizations and Virginia Commonwealth University.
The trash industry gave $38,950 to legislative candidates, more than it has in recent years but still far less than the state's most lavish givers. The health-care industry, which faces the prospect of legislation this session that would give managed-care patients more power to sue insurers, topped industry's list of big donors at $370,000.
But an overall trend emerges in the individual and political action committee contributions that increasingly are flowing to Republicans, who in just six years have taken the state Senate and all three statewide offices and won a split of the House of Delegates -- the last bastion of Democratic Party power in Virginia's capital.
The Republicans entered this critical election year with $3.4 million to the Democrats' $2.3 million, an edge that the GOP owes largely to the pools of cash controlled by Gov. James S. Gilmore III and other statewide GOP officeholders. No comparable data is available for other years, but several political observers say Democrats have consistently outspent Republicans in legislative elections.
"It is a historic reversal," said GOP operative Ray Allen, an adviser to Gilmore. "We've never even been at [financial] parity before."
In the House of Delegates, candidates from both parties have roughly equal sums of cash, but in the Senate, Republican candidates have more than $1 million, compared with $770,000 for Democrats. A bigger factor in the GOP edge is the emergence of elected officials as statewide financial power brokers.
Gilmore controls $643,000 in three PACs. Attorney General Mark L. Earley has $84,000. Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, Earley's likely rival in the 2001 GOP race for governor, has $208,000. Aides say that all three plan to use the cash to help legislative candidates in November, a common way to build allies for future races.
The Democrats, who have a $550,000 to $242,000 advantage in money controlled directly by parties and caucuses, say they don't expect to be able to keep up with total Republican fund-raising for this year's elections. That could be an especially severe handicap for Democrats because more of their legislators face tough reelection fights than do Republicans.
"They will outspend us," said Gail Shea Nardi, a Democratic spokeswoman, "but they won't outsmart us."
Some Democrats also expect Mark Warner, the Northern Virginia multimillionaire who is considering a campaign for governor, to contribute generously to legislative campaigns -- a factor that has not shown up on state campaign reports but that could ease the disparity with Republicans.
One Democrat who has been raising significant money is Couric. Grisham and his wife, Renee, paid for a catered party for her at their home near Charlottesville -- and the bill was equivalent to a contribution worth $28,000. That was the largest gift to any state lawmaker from any individual during the reporting period -- three times larger than the second-largest personal contribution.
"It was a very generous, supportive effort," said Couric, who added that she is raising money only for her reelection campaign later this year, not for a possible bid for lieutenant governor.
The trash industry, now facing calls for new limits on out-of-state trash from Gilmore and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, increased its giving in legislative races from $46,400 in 1997 to $55,200 last year. In the second half of the year alone, as the political threat to the industry became clearer, the industry gave $38,950 to a total of 66 lawmakers; nearly half of all state lawmakers got a check.
Two Northern Virginia lawmakers topped the list of recipients. Del. Jay Katzen (R-Fauquier) got $2,100 in waste industry money; Del. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) got $2,000. Overall, Republicans received $23,200 from the trash industry, compared with $15,750 for the Democrats.
Northern Virginia also flexed its muscles as a campaign-giver, contributing $519,000 to legislators last year. The region's technology community, including companies and individuals, gave $19,300.
The list of the biggest industry givers is an indication of those with the most at stake before the General Assembly this year, topped by the health-care industry. More than two dozen Democratic bills seek to give patients new rights against health maintenance organizations, to expand the legal liability of insurers and to broaden the choice of doctors.
In the last six months, health insurers alone have given $47,900, and three of the top five givers overall are from the health-care industry. The Virginia Medical Society gave $60,800; the Virginia Hospital Association gave $48,700; Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield gave $33,900.
The real estate and construction industry, which is fighting increasing calls by suburban governments for controls on development, was second with $313,000. The legal profession ranked third with $222,000. Other noteworthy givers included banks with $74,000, electric utilities with $69,000 and the tobacco industry with $53,200.
But no matter what the source -- businesses, PACs or individuals -- more money is flowing to Republicans than ever.
"Republicans are coming into their own," said GOP consultant Anne B. Kincaid, an adviser to Earley. "There are a lot of nervous Democrats who are hanging onto their little bit of power, and they're feeling it slip through their fingers."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company