A relatively few large political donors, principally with ties to business interests, are providing three out of every four dollars being raised in Virginia's fall election campaign, Common Cause of Virginia said today.

The citizens group called the development "unhealthy" and said candidates could be forced to change their positions as key issues "as a result of the contributions."

In a 10-page report based on a computer analysis of reported political contributions, Common Cause said business-related individuals and concerns had provided "a whopping 58 per cent" of all contributions of $500 or more in the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The bulk of that money - 68 per cent by the Common Cause count - went to Republican gubernatorial nominee John N. Dalton, who is running against Democrat Henry E. Howell on an admittedly probusiness platform.

It was well known that businessmen were heavily backing Dalton's race and the Common Cause report the first analysis of its kind, indicated that 66 per cent of all money contributed to the six state candidates, of Dalton's contributions of $500 or more came from business-related individuals and concerns. (Under Virginia law, corporations are allowed to contribute to political candidates.)

Although the report seemed to document Howell's allegation that the state's "big banks" were opposed to him, other sections in the report could hardly be seen as a solace to the Howell campaign. It did confirm that 93 per cent of the "finance" related contributions reported to date have gone to Dalton.

But Howell, more than any of the other five major candidates for statewide office, has seemed to be dependent on gifts from large contributors, according to Common Cause. Contributions of $100 or less have accounted for "only 12 per cent" of Howell's contributions in the general election, Common Cause said.

Such contributions accounted for 26 per cent of Dalton's money, it said The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, A. Joseph Canada, received 28 per cent of his gifts in amounts of $100 or less and his Democratic opponent, Charles S. (Chuck) Robb, has 22 per cent of his gifts in amounts of $100 or less, the report said.

Small gifts accounted for 22 per cent of the money reported by Republican nominee for attorney general, J. Marshall Coleman, and 20 per cent of the funds raised by his Democratic opponent, Edward E. Lane, the report said.

Overall, gifts of $500 or more have accounted for $1.5 million of the $2.1 million the candidates have reported, Common Cause said. The report did not say how special interest money would affect the candidates, but noted that money from the state's coal industry has become one of the three top sources of business gifts in the campaign. The coal industry is opposed to any tax on newly mined coal. Howell has received "roughly $44,000" from coal industry-related sources and Dalton, $54,000, the report said.

The report was also critical of the dependence of many of the candidates on their "personal wealth" to finance their campaigns. This raises "the specter of the rich buying office" Common Cause said. Dalton and Robb, both lawyers with sizeable investments, got 10 per cent of their funds from family loans and contributions, the report said.

Family loans and contributions accounted for 12 per cent of Coleman's funds and 22 per cent of Canada's. The report did not deal with the number of contributors each candidate reported, a point certain to anger Dalton supporters who have repeatedly claimed his 11,752 contributors are a record in Virginia.

The report did not mention the total amount of money any candidate has raised nor did it consider any of the funds the Democrats had raised previously for use in their June 14 Democratic primary races. Although some of the Republicans had been raising funds before the primary, they were not required to report their expenditures until this month, 30 days in advance of the general election.

Union contributions, a major target of Republican oratory in the campaign, have "not made up a very large part of the total giving" in the general election, the report said. Ninety per cent of the labour money, $64,864, has gone to Howell, whose Norfolk law firm has represented several union groups and who is endorsed by the State AFL-CIO, the report said.

The Common Cause report said that the six candidates appear to draw from different bases of financial support. "Only 32 contributors could be positively identified who had given money to more than one candidate . . ." the report said.

The largest individual Republican contributor identified in study was Richmond investor and financier Lawrence Lewis who loaned and gave a total of $118,326 to Dalton and Coleman, R. T. Short, president of Timolate Inc., who loaned Dalton $60,000 and donated $1,920 to him was the second largest giver listed, Sydney Lewis of Richmond, founder of the Best Products Co. discount store, who gave $43,445 to Democratic candidates, and the State AFL-CIO, which gave $23,899 to Democratic candidates, were the largest Democratic donors.