Virginia Republican attorney general candidate J. Marshall Coleman yesterday charged that his Democratic opponent. Edward E. Lane, "may have benefited" from legislation affecting savings and loan associations that he introduced while in the General Assembly.
Lane immediately denied Coleman's charge and counter-attacked by asking Coleman to "explain why his entire income is from a law firm that represents a number of utilities and why he campaigns for an office involved in regulating those very utilities."
Coleman, in an Alexandria press conference, charged that Lane was "the prime sponsor" of 21 bills relating to the savings and loan industry over the last five years while owning stock and serving on the board of the Rappahannock Savings and Loan Association for at least part of that time.
In response to the charges, Lane said that he bough 50 shares and his law firm bought 350 shares of Rappahannock Savings and Loan stock, which today is worth a total of about $8,000. He said dividends from the stock have amounted to $150 so far.
Lane said he had served as the organizing attorney for the firm and was secretary of its board until May, 1975, when he resigned "since the association was launched and my work essentially complete.
"None of these bills benefited me personally," he said. "My investment and that of my law firm is infinitesimal when compared with an overall investment (in the S&L) of over $1 million. My opponent knows this or should know all this. He is bringing this campaign to a new low by picking at straws to get publicity for his own personal political gain."
Lane acknowledged that he has "handled legislation for this industry just as I have handled legislation for many other citizens."
In the annual economic interest forms legislators are required by state law to file, Lane listed at least eight insurance or financial firms as his clients. Many business leaders in Richmond are supporting his candidacy.
Coleman's law firm in Staunton represents the Virginia Electric Power Co., Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., and the Life Insurance Co. of Virginia. He said yesterday that another member of his firm represents these companies, and that the firm has never received more than $1,000 in fees in any year from each of these interests.
He turned the question of Lane's legislative record to the Democratic candidate for governor, Henry E. Howell, who on Aug. 20 charged that there were rumors that Republican gubernatorial candidate John N. Dalton had "feathered his nest" while he was a legislator.
"He (Howell) never came up with anything on Dalton," Coleman said. "If I prove a conflict of interest on the part of one of his own running mates, will he apply the same standards to him?"
Coleman said the bills Lane had sponsored showed a "constant pattern" and that it was a "legitimate political commentary to bring to the attention of the public a person's past record." He added that the bills were "not necessarily sinister or bad bills," but said that the theory behind a conflict of interest is that "a person loses his objectivity if you've got some tie to an industry that will benefit (from the legislation)."
The bills he detailed included a 1975 measure Lane sponsored that allowed county treasurers to deposit local funds in savings and loans as well as banks, and another 1975 bill that permits lending institutions to charge up to half a year's interest as a fee on the prepayment of a real estate loan. Both bills passed.
Another bill that would have increased the amount of interest a savings and loan association could have charged for loans was defeated.
Coleman also noted differences between the economic interest statements Lane filed as a legislator and reports he filed as a the Rappahannock board secretary with the State Corporation Commission. For example, in 1975 SCC records showed Lane as both secretary and a director of the Rappahannock S&L while Lane did not list those positions in his legislative disclosure statement, Coleman said. In 1973, he listed both positions; in 1974 he listed the secretaryship only. Lane did not comment on this question.
Coleman was one of 19 legislators listed in a Common Cause survey in 1975 as having a "potential conflict of interest situation which should be reported." Coleman, who has championed Common Cause legislation strengthening the state's conflict of interest disclosure requirements, said yesterday he had listed more firms than required by law in his statement.
Lane, referring to a 1975 article in The Post describing this issue, said "although I have had this information for some time, I have never used it as I deplore this campaigning."