Six incumbent Fairfax County supervisors disregarded their own campaign financing guidelines this fall when they accepted a total of $1,000 in contributions from a lawyer seeking the county's lucrative cable television franchise.
Board Chairman John F. Herrity and Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee) also violated a similar pledge prohibiting donations from land developers when they accepted contributions totaling $1,000 from participants in zoning cases.
And the three new board members elected in November, Thomas M. Davis III (R-Mason), Sandra L. Duckworth (D-Mount Vernon) and Nancy L. Falck (R-Dranesville), did not follow key parts of the voluntary campaign financing guidelines although they were asked to observe the guidelines along with the incumbent supervisors.
It's not illegal to violate the guidelines and there's no penalty for doing so, and most of the apparent violations appeared to be minor.
The six incumbents who agreed to abide by the guidelines -- Herrity, Alexander, Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville), Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), Marie B. Travesky (R-Springfield) and James M. Scott (D-Providence) -- said they did their best to follow them. Any mistakes were committed inadvertently, they said in separate interviews last week.
With the exception of Alexander, the others said they returned the $100 and $200 contributions from Timothy T. Fenton, after they discovered last week that he represented Fairfax Cable Systems, one of several companies competing for the county franchise.
Alexander, the senior Democratic supervisor, said he was not aware of Fenton's cable television affiliation when he accepted the contribution. However, he said won't return the money because the donation won't influence his vote on the franchise expected to be decided later this year.
None of the errors discovered in a Washington Post survey of campaign reports was major. The contributions that appear to violate the voluntary guidelines represent less than 5 percent of the more than $130,000 raised in the November election for the nine board seats. Board members said their mistakes demonstrate the difficulty of complying with the strict rules, which were supposed to supplement state election laws that many Northern Virginian politicians say are too weak and imprecise.
Travesky, who returned a $200 contribution when she discovered the donor's name on a thick list of zoning applicants the county gave each candidate, said the guidelines are "tough" to follow.
"The lists are so long," she said. "You get updates. You really have to go through each one. It really was a zoo."
Before the Nov. 6 election, the board unanimously adopted the guidelines in an effort to prevent land developers and zoning lawyers, key figures in this rapidly developing area, from influencing the outcome of elections. But the guidelines said candidates should not accept money from anyone whose name appeared on a zoning petition. Some supervisors say that created a logistical problem, since petitions can cover anything from a major development to small projects such as a house addition.
"I think the development interests have too much say in what goes on in Fairfax County," said Supervisor Moore, a slow-growth advocate who pushed for the guidelines. "This was a way to lessen their influence."
But the guidelines weren't always met.
To force full disclosure, candidates were supposed to reveal the name of anyone who donated more than $15, a much stricter rule than Virginia campaign laws, which asks the identity of contributors who give $100 or more.
Alexander complied with the state law by revealing contributions of $100 or more, but he did not file a list of donors who gave under $100. He said last week he believed the guidelines didn't require that list.
Alexander raised most of his money from the sale of tickets to two campaign fundraisers. Since individual tickets cost less than $15, Alexander did not report the names of the purchasers.
As a result, he did not reveal who gave him nearly $10,000, more than 80 percent of his $12,035 in total contributions.
A $250 contribution he did report came from Richard R. Luxenburg, a Springfield businessman involved in a pending rezoning case. r
Alexander said last week he was unaware of Luxenburg's interest in the rezoning when he accepted the donation. In cases where he knew of a contributor's interest in a zoning case, Alexander said he returned the donation. Alexander said he did not return Luxenburg's donation.
Luxenburg said this week his contribution was not related to his zoning case.
Herrity didn't file his list of under $100 contributions until last Thursday, more than three months after the election and after a Washington Post reporter asked him about it. He said the failure of his campaign to file the report was an oversight, and that he had intended to file it before the election.
The board chairman also accepted a $500 contribution from car dealer Robert M. Rosenthal and a $250 donation from the Holiday Inn-Fairfax Motel Corp., despite having voted for a zoning variance for one of Rosenthal's dealerships and for a rezoning obtained by N. Roy McKay, president of the Holiday Inn Corporation.
Herrity said in the interview he plans to return both contributions, which inadvertently slipped by campaign volunteers assigned to screen his donations. He said he returned about $10,000 in other donations because of possible conflicts of interest.
McKay and a Rosenthal spokesman said the contributions had nothing to do with their separate zoning cases.
Newly elected Supervisor Davis said he ignored the guidelines because he doesn't believe campaign spending limits are constitutional.
Davis, a lawyer, reported receiving $4,000 in contributions from a client -- $3,000 from Reel-O-Matic Systems Inc., a Pennsylvania company that manufactures wire hoops, and a separate contribution from the firm's president John D. Schrott Jr., a Vienna resident. The contributions were well over the $500 limit set by the voluntary guidelines.
Duckworth, another new supervisor, said she set her own rules, which included limiting contributions to $100 and reporting all her donors. She also accepted a few contributions from developers.
Falck didn't disclose the sources of her under $100 contributions as called for in the guidelines. Falck said this week that she was not informed of the guidelines during the campaign. She noted, however, that she set some guidelines for herself, primarily that she would avoid large contributions.
Herrity said public concern about the supervisors' decisions in zoning cases is the main reason to continue the ban on contributions from developers.
"I'm not saying that for $200, $300, or $400 (a supervisor) can be bought," Herrity said. "It's the appearance it brings to the public. That's the important thing. (And) that's why I'll support this again. Hopefully, we'll have a smoother system."
The guidelines prompted some discussion at the county board meeting this week, although the supervisors offered no concrete solutions. Supervisor Scott, who introduced the resolution establishing the guidelines, repeated that he is considering asking the board to appoint a citizens' committee to study improving the campaign financing rules.
Several supervisors said, however, they would prefer leaving the matter to the state.
"I think it is adequately controlled at the state level," said Marie B. Travesky, "it was the kind of thing this board got into, that is not necessary."