A chart that accompanied a Metro article yesterday about campaign contributions by the Virginia Optometric Political Action Committee and the Ophthalmology in Virginia PAC erroneously listed contributions to Del. J. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk). The contributions were to Thomas E. Glasscock, an unsuccessful candidate for the Virginia General Assembly from Hampton.
Less than 24 hours after Alan E. Mayer won the Democratic nomination for a vacant seat in the Virginia General Assembly, an Annandale ophthalmologist called to say he wanted to contribute to Mayer's campaign. A short time later, an Annandale optometrist was in Mayer's office, a contribution check in hand.
"Neither of them mentioned 'The Bill', " Mayer said of his New Year's Eve callers, who contributed $250 and $400 respectively to his campaign for the House of Delegates, to which he was elected two weeks later.
House Bill 270 -- desperately desired by the optometrists and vehemently opposed by the ophthalmologists -- would permit certain optometrists to dispense drugs for the treatment of eye ailments. Under existing Virginia law, only ophthalmologists -- physicians specializing in eye diseases -- may dispense the drugs. The proposed change has been the subject of some of the most costly and intense lobbying of this year's session of the Virginia General Assembly.
As a member of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions, Del. Mayer, a Fairfax Democrat, will cast a key vote on the bill Thursday. The 20-member committee reportedly is almost evenly divided on the bill. Mayer, one of only a few members still undecided, said he'll probably decide after hearing testimony at a subcommittee meeting just before the vote by the full committee.
Records at the state Board of Elections show that the Virginia Optometric Political Action Committee made contributions ranging from $100 to $750 to all but one of the 20 members of the health committee; the Political Action Committee for Ophthalmology in Virginia contributed $250 to $1,500 to 14 of the 20.
Four members of the committee are among the 26 sponsors of the bill and all but four of the sponsors got campaign contributions last year from the optometrists.
In all, through Dec. 11, the optometrists made campaign contributions of $86,552, compared with $27,457 by the ophthalmologists.
The totals do not include the contributions to Mayer and to Del. Jean Cunningham (D-Richmond), who was elected earlier this month. Cunningham, like Mayer, said she got money from both sides, but did not recall the amounts.
Cunningham, too, was still studying the issue today.
Nearly half of the state's 493 optometrists are here for the lobbying countdown.
After strategy meetings at their lobbyist's office, they fanned out for the Capitol and General Assembly Building, buttonholing delegates and telling their story.
Their effort includes distributing a tape recording, complete with tape recorder, and a four-color brochure that explain their position. They emphasize that the bill would In all, through Dec. 11, the optometrists made campaign contributions of $86,552 compared with $27,457 by the ophthalmologists. require optometrists to go back to school for about 100 hours of ocular pharmacology -- equal to what is taught in medical school -- before being licensed to dispense the drugs.
Many of the state's 288 ophthalmologists are making similar, if less organized, efforts, and are getting help from allied medical groups.
A two-hour hearing on the bill Tuesday drew a full house, during which both sides contended that their chief interest is in improving public health, while suggesting their opponents are motivated chiefly by financial concerns.
Dr. Gerald J. Bechamps, president of the state Board of Medicine, said passage would allow "those of lesser training, education and competency to treat beyond their capacity . . . . Would you put your mother or father to this risk?"
The optometrists countered that in neighboring North Carolina and West Virginia, the states with the longest experience in allowing optometrists to dispense the drugs, optometrists have clean records. Eight states have similar laws.
The campaign contributions are only the tip of the iceberg. The total expense of the blitz will be much higher. Both sides have hired high-powered Richmond law firms to lobby for them. The ophthalmologists also have employed a public relations firm and the optometrists' effort is orchestrated by their full-time Richmond representative, Bruce B. Keeney.
Is there a payoff for all that spending?
Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), a committee member who has received contributions from "a lot of organizations in the health care industry," said it "doesn't have a damn thing to do with this vote."
Del. Kenneth R. Melvin (D-Portsmouth) agrees. Melvin got $250 from the ophthalmologists, but was the only committee member who didn't get a contribution from the optometrists. Melvin said today he is "leaning" toward voting for the bill.