John N. Dalton, the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, said today that the failure of Democratic nominee Henry E. Howell to substantiate conflict-of-interest charges against him shows that Howell "cannot be trusted" to be governor.
Dalton made his statement at a crowded press conference in the state Capitol here where he challenged Howell to meet him to explain the conflict charges he made Aug. 20 or to apologize for making them.
Howell was in Richmond but did not come to the Capitol. Instead, aides distributed a statement calling Dalton "an honest man" but contending that it was wrong of him as a bank director and lawyer who sometimes represents insurance companies to have voted on banking and insurance legislation in the Virginia General Assembly.
These contentions, howeves, fell short of the charge made by Howell on Aug. 20 that Dalton had prompted specific legislation for personal financial gain.
In printed statements distributed by Howell workers at the state AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education (COPE) convention in Roanoke on Aug. 20, Howell said:
"The Republican nominee for governor has a record of feathering his nest at the expense of the public interest. The Republican nominee has attempted to use public office for private gain."
In his speech to the COPE convention acknowledging its endorsement, Howell called out to Dalton as if he were in the hall and phrased his conflict charge in a somewhat different manner:
"There are those who are saying that he attempted to feather his nest by the bills he put in and the bills he tried to get passed. Now, if you were attempting to use public office to feather your nest, Johnny, you'd better get out of the race . . . Shades of Watergate we want nothing of in Virginia."
Reporters immediately descended on Howell for specifics to back up his charge, but he told them he would not disclose them until last Wednesday.By Wednesday, however, Howell had gone to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a vacation and his aides, including press secretary Frank Bolling, said they had no proof of conflict against Dalton.
Dalton and others have assumed that Howell planned to accuse Dalton of a financial conflict for sponsoring legislation in 1972 that permitted banks to increase service fees on certain loans from $1 to $5.
Dalton is a director of the First and Merchants National Bank of Radford and, with other members of his family, owns about 4 per cent of the bank's stock. He said today, however, that his 1972 bill applied only to state chartered banks and not to national banks, which already were charging service fees in excess of $5.
National bank regulators said in interviews that such a state law could, under some regulatory interpretations, be applied to national banks but apparently was not in this instance. The state law has since been changed to permit service charges by any bank of 2 per cent of the amount of the loan.
Dalton today repeatedly asserted that Howell's failure to substantiate a serious campaign charge shows he is "untrustworthy."
"I hope that people realize that in Henry Howell they have a man who does not tell the full truth in a campaign and therefore cannot be trusted," he said.
"This has been the history of Howell campaigns, to try to belittle opponents rather than stay on the high road. The people should understand that he is that kind of a man."
When Howell first made his conflict charge, the Dalton campaign dismissed it as part of the Howell style and cited a statement by former Virginia Attorney General Andrew P. Miller, defeated by Howell on June 14 for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Miller said of Howell during the primary campaign: "Attacks on the motives and integrity of others for reasons of political expedience have been the foundation of Mr. Howell's career."
In his statement today, Howell again called on Dalton to release a financial statement showing his net assets.Both Howell and Dalton have filed disclosure statements showing what they own but not the value of their assets.
Howell said today that he will release a net worth statement next week. Dalton said he still does not intend to disclose the net worth of his assets, which he has acknowledged exceed $1 million.
"I don't think we've got to look to everyone who runs for public office of file a financial statement," he said. "The General Assembly of Virginia does not feel that is necessary and the conflict of interest commission that contained no legislators did not recommend it.