Six Virginia legislators, including the speaker of the House, were flown to Dallas last fall by the Southland Corp. for a Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys football game, but only two reported the trip on annual financial disclosure forms.
Speaker A.L. Philpott (D-Henry) and three other lawmakers on the private Learjet excursion did not report the trip, which included a visit to Southland's Dallas headquarters and a tour of Southfork, the ranch where the television series "Dallas" is filmed.
Two state senators in the group reported a trip without noting the location, listing it simply as a Southland Corp. "tour of business facility" worth about $350. Southland, owner of the 7-Eleven chain and a strong lobbyist in the Virginia General Assembly, has a regional distribution center in Fredericksburg.
Charles R. Duvall, a lobbyist for Southland who went on the trip, said in an interview today that he did not know how much it cost.
"We . . . had our legal department research it, and obviously it was not intended to be a lobbying trip," he said. "It was . . . to see Southland and the football."
In addition to Philpott, legislators who did not report the trip were Dels. Alan A. Diamonstein (D-Newport News), Alson H. Smith Jr. (D-Winchester) and George H. Heilig Jr. (D-Norfolk).
"What business is it of yours?" Philpott growled when asked by a reporter about the trip. Philpott said it was "a purely social trip. It had nothing to do with legislation. It had something to do with business."
Diamonstein said he did not report the trip because "nothing was discussed" about legislation. He said, "We looked at their new headquarters building. They're very PR oriented. Everybody in Virginia knows 7-Eleven." He said there "was no legislation affecting Southland pending" before the legislature when the trip was made.
Southland employs about 7,500 people in Virginia and, according to a lobbyist report, is specifically interested in legislation "of importance to the convenience grocery store industry . . . including, but not limited to, the sale of alcoholic beverages, the sale of gasoline and other products, regulatory changes and taxes."
All of those issues, in one form or another, are before the legislature now, but, Duvall said, Southland has "very little of interest this time."
Under Virginia law, legislators must report receipt of money, goods or services exceeding $200 in value from organizations or persons who may be affected by actions of the legislature.
"It was a fun trip," said Smith. "Should it be reported? Well, if it should, I will. I've been flying to ball games every year. This one wasn't even a Super Bowl game."
Smith said, "I've flown in every conceivable size airplane, with every conceivable company and person." He said he is not much of a football fan. "I don't get hung up about the game. It's the people. I like the people who put these things together. I don't see any of that stuff as a conflict."
"I probably should have reported it," said Heilig. "I overlooked it. The trip was in early September and the reporting was in early December."
Heilig said the legislators visited Southland Corp. offices in Dallas briefly to review an art exhibit before going to the game.
State Sens. Dudley J. (Buzz) Emick (D-Botetourt) and Daniel W. Bird Jr. (D-Wytheville) reported the trip.
"I just went to see the Southland Corp. headquarters," Bird said in an interview. "It was a nice trip down. It was the first time I saw Dallas." Bird did not volunteer that the trip included the football game and Southfork visit. "Oh, yeah. There was a game that night. We went to the game . . . and came back. It wasn't anything special."
Emick could not be reached for comment.
The disclosure comes at a time when the General Assembly is struggling with embarrassing attempts to amend the conflict-of-interest laws, including efforts by some leaders, including Philpott, to weaken penalties for violations.
Asked whether he thought that some people might view the trip as a lobbying effort, Duvall said, "Obviously the people are in the legislature and they make decisions that affect Southland. What we need to do is impress on them that Southland is not only a Texas corporation, but a Virginia corporation, too.