Republican candidates for Fairfax County's Board of Supervisors have received large cash infusions from the state and local GOP recently, prompting charges by Democrats that the party is being used to "launder" money from developers.
Nearly all the candidates for the county board have pledged not to accept donations from developers, whose land-use applications go before the board for approval. Many developers have privately expressed frustration with that policy, complaining they feel excluded from the political process.
In recent months, the GOP has given more than $150,000 to seven of its candidates, including $52,500 to County Board Chairman John F. Herrity -- a sum that goes far beyond any previous GOP donations to candidates for local office in the area. Democrats have not received funds from the state or county Democratic Party.
Unlike Maryland and some other states, there is no requirement in Virginia that political parties disclose their donors. That, Democrats say, is the nub of the problem; they charge that developers are using the GOP as a conduit for large cash donations to their favorite candidates -- without having to disclose those contributions.
"There's only one place the money can be coming from," said Harris N. Miller, the Fairfax Democratic chief. "Developers are giving money to the Republican Party, and the party is turning around and giving it to the board candidates."
Republican Party officials would not confirm or deny yesterday that developers are donating significant amounts of money and earmarking them for local board candidates.
"I won't comment on that," said James D. Swinson, the Fairfax GOP chief. "I don't have a breakdown on where it really did come from."
Republicans say that if developers' money is finding its way to GOP candidates -- and they do not acknowledge that is the case -- it would be no different from Democratic Party practices. They also point out that the Democratic Party, which controls the state legislature, made the rules governing disclosure requirements for political parties.
One supervisor, who requested anonymity, said the developers' money is certain to influence the way board members vote on rezonings and other land-use applications. "It just changes the way you do business," the board member said. "On a close rezoning, you can get a handful of citizens mad by supporting it, or on the other hand you can get a ton of money in to buy a lot of ads to counteract the negative fallout. It just changes the balance of power" in favor of developers.
Developers have played a significant role in the elections so far despite the strictures adopted by most of the board candidates.
For example, the county Chamber of Commerce's political action committee, which has raised $17,400 for board candidates, collected most of that money -- $10,000 -- from Bahman Batmanghelidj, a developer with large land holdings and at least two pending rezoning applications near Dulles International Airport in western Fairfax.
The chamber's PAC, which received other donations from developers as well, distributed its money to five Republican board candidates and one Democratic candidate, all but one of whom had pledged not to accept money from developers.
Board members who received money from the PAC are Herrity and supervisors T. Farrell Egge (R-Mount Vernon), Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville), Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield), and Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville). D. Patrick Mullins, a Republican seeking the board seat in Annandale District, also was a recipient. Herrity and Pennino each received $3,500; the rest collected $1,500 each.
Herrity spokeswoman M. Constance Bedell said the Herrity campaign did not know that the bulk of the PAC money was from a developer with a pending land-use case. She said Herrity and his aides would consider today or tomorrow what to do with the PAC money. Other recipients of the PAC money could not be reached for comment.
The Washington Post reported in August that Herrity also asked developers to raise large amounts of money on his behalf. Herrity has said that does not violate his stated policy of not accepting money from developers.
There is no limit on the amount of money that can be given to local candidates in Virginia.
Rumors have been flying in recent weeks -- particularly from the camps of Herrity and his Democratic opponent Supervisor Audrey Moore -- that developers are financing campaigns in Northern Virginia.
"For years the Democrats assisted their local candidates," Falck said. "I'm so glad the Republicans have finally realized the importance of local elections and are doing the same thing."
Falck, who has received $17,500 from the state and local GOP, added that there is no danger that she would be tainted by developers' money because she is unaware of who is giving to the party coffers. "If you are going to be bought," she said, "wouldn't you have to know who's buying you?"
Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, touring Northern Virginia yesterday, said he was concerned about the question of political parties being used as a conduit for money from donors who want to remain anonymous.