Candidates for Fairfax County's Board of Supervisors continued to exercise political damage control yesterday amid growing evidence that large amounts of money from real estate developers found its way into campaign coffers with the election for all board seats coming up Tuesday.
Supervisor T. Farrell Egge, a Republican seeking reelection as Mount Vernon District supervisor, and D. Patrick Mullins, Republican candidate in Annandale District, announced they will return donations of $1,500 apiece from a political action committee whose biggest donor is a developer with a major rezoning pending before the board.
Meanwhile, aides to County Board Chairman John F. Herrity answered continuing inquiries from reporters about a number of donations from individuals who are connected to pending development applications. Although Herrity's aides could not give a specific total, it appeared they would have to return several thousand dollars in contributions from developers.
Herrity and most other candidates for the board, wary of being seen as captives of the development industry, have said they will not accept donations from developers, whose land-use applications must go before the county board for final disposition.
Tuesday's elections are regarded as a critical test of whether the county will continue to develop at the rapid pace Herrity has endorsed or at a slower rate advocated by Democratic Supervisor Audrey Moore, Herrity's chief opponent.
Egge and Mullins joined four candidates who have announced they will return contributions for as much as $3,500 to the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce's political action committee. Combined, the six refunded checks amount to $13,000.
The checks were returned after The Washington Post reported that $10,000 of the PAC's $17,400 came from Bahman Batmanghelidj, who is planning a major mixed-use project on 211 acres near Dulles International Airport.
In an interview, Batmanghelidj said he contributed the $10,000 to the PAC after chamber officials told him they planned to raise more than $250,000 to back Northern Virginia candidates who support transportation improvements. "There was no suggestion that the money was going to any specific group of people," he said. "My contribution made sense as my civic duty."
The Chamber of Commerce announced that Batmanghelidj had decided to send his $10,000 donation to the United Way instead. The chamber, in a statement, said "it is unfortunate that any misperception may have occurred as a result" of the PAC donations. The statement added that the trustees of the PAC -- a bipartisan group of five chamber officials -- were "solely responsible for the distributions of funds" and that donors and recipients were unaware of each others' identity.
Batmanghelidj, who is active in a group of private investors hoping to build a rail transit line to Dulles, said his rezoning application is not controversial -- an assessment that county officials confirmed.
Nonetheless, board members said privately that accepting the PAC funds -- as well as direct or indirect contributions from developers -- could foster the impression of influence-peddling even if none exists.
"Mr. Herrity doesn't even know who's given him money," said Herrity spokeswoman M. Constance Bedell. "Anyone in the political world who thinks their money influences a candidate . . . it's a joke. Money never influences policy."
"That is absolute and utter nonsense," replied Fairfax Democratic Party chief Harris N. Miller. "Candidates respond to people who give them money . . . . I'm not saying that Mr. Herrity has been bought, but he went out and actively solicted money from developers."
Also yesterday, Herrity and Moore filed supplementary disclosure forms. Herrity has received $13,300 since Tuesday, including $10,600 from the Virginia Republican Party. Moore disclosed she has received $17,000 since Tuesday, much of it from longtime Democratic activists, lawyers in private practice and retired school teachers.
Democrats contend that developers are "laundering" contributions to Herrity and other Republican candidates through the state and county GOP, which under state law do not have to disclose the source of their funds. Republican officials have neither confirmed nor denied the Democrats' assertions.