Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton is inviting hundreds of his 1977 campaign contributors to dine with him and other Republican governors in Williamsburg next month, and Dalton is hoping many willpay as much as $1,000 for the meal.
The dinner invitations by Dalton, sent on his personal stationery, are part of his staffs effort to raise at least $60,000 to finance the National Republican Governors' Conference in the colonial capital Nov. 26-28. A Dalton spokesman said the costs of sending the letters are being borne by a fund-raising committee although a member of the governor's personal staff is deeply involved on the project.
In the letters, Dalton tells prospective donors the meeting will be the event at which "the opening gun of the 1980 presidential campaign will be fired . . ." The event will draw "heavy coverage by the national news media" and attract "many great names of the party," he says.
"It's really the first big Republican get-together of the 1980 campaign and the eyes of the nation will be on us," Dalton said.
Individuals who give $1,000 are promised that they can "host one of the visiting governors and sit with him" at a "state dinner." Donors who give less than $1,000 are welcome to attend any of the conference sessions "as my honored guest," Dalton said in the letters.
Presumably, the "great names" who will attend will include all of the potential GOP presidential candidates, but Dalton press secretary William A. Royall Jr. said no firm list of official guests is yet available.
Dalton and Royall have called on veteran Richmond lobbyist Sumpter Priddy Jr., who represents the Virginia Retail Merchants Association, to put together the three-day conference. I. Lee Potter, former Republican national committeeman from Arlington and longtime finance chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, is in charge of raising money for the meeting.
Royall said corporate contributions will be solicited and that no disclosure of contributors will be made.
Criticism of lavish gifts to state executive at past governors' conferences, including nonpartisan meetings of the national and regional governors associations, has resulted in more modest sessions in recent years.
Some chief executives have complained that the austerity movement went too far this year when Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukaksi, host of the National Governors' Conference, did away with the traditionally ceremonial state dinner. Dukakis treated the governors and their spouses to a lobster feast, but required them to eat with plastic fork.
Corporations often contribute to governors' meetings, including those financed partly with public funds. South Carolina budgeted $75,000 in public money for the recent Southern Governors' Conference in Hilton Head, S.C., but corporations also gave and were discreetly listed on the back of a welcoming brochure.
Colonial Williamsburg will provide visiting governors with complimentary suites and Virginia state police will provide security for all out-of-state executives "as is customary," Royall said. State governments in the past have contributed to partisan political affairs such as the conference, Royall said.
There are only 13 Republican governors in the nation today, but Dalton's letter expressed the hope that the Nov. 7 election will produce "six to eight" GOP governors-elect. Former governors are accorded the same status as governors at the conference.