RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, who repeatedly has criticized members of Congress for being improperly influenced by campaign contributions from the troubled savings and loan industry, accepted thousands of dollars from lobbyists for the S&Ls for his secret inaugural fund.
Lobbyists representing Virginia savings and loan interests spent at least $12,500 to buy VIP tables at Wilder's inaugural ball last January, according to interviews and published reports.
Wilder's continued refusal to make public how much money he raised from lobbyists and others with an interest in state government during his inaugural celebration, or to say how he intends to spend the money, have been a continuing source of questions. The amount is estimated to be at least $1 million.
"It strikes me as somewhat unusual that our governor can so freely criticize the federal government" while ducking questions about his own lobbyist contributions, said Julie Lapham, head of Common Cause of Virginia, a group advocating greater openness in government.
"It's arrogance," Lapham said. "His attitude is, 'I'm governor and I don't want to disclose and I'm going to do things my way.' "
Virginia law does not require governors to disclose money raised during inaugural festivities. Wilder's predecessor, fellow Democrat Gerald L. Baliles, did so voluntarily.
Wilder has steadfastly refused to follow Baliles's example. Two newspapers, the Richmond News Leader and Newport News Daily Press, have obtained copies of documents indicating who paid for VIP tables at the Wilder inaugural ball.
The documents show that two registered lobbyists for Virginia's thrift industry bought special booths on the floor of the Richmond Coliseum for Wilder's Jan. 13 inaugural ball. Mark Saurs, lobbyist for the Virginia League of Savings Institutions, bought two booths for $2,500 each. The law firm of Hazel, Thomas, Fiske, Beckhorn & Hanes bought one booth for $7,500.
There are no legal restrictions on spending the money, which Wilder could use for personal expenses or for political purposes.
The governor flashed a look of irritation when asked last week about thrift industry contributions to the inaugural fund. "I've said all I plan to say on that," he told a group of reporters, then brought the questioning to an abrupt close.
Wilder has been more talkative on the subject of the federal savings and loan scandal. In a speech last week, he condemned the "incompetence, cowardice, and greed" of "Washington insiders" who "passed out blank checks, often to characters known to be less than upstanding."
"It's a blatant double standard," said Steve Haner, director of the Republican legislative caucus. "There's nothing illegal or immoral about accepting contributions from the savings and loan groups. But it certainly is immoral and ought to be illegal to keep it secret."
Haner said legislation will be introduced at next winter's General Assembly session aimed at forcing governors to disclose contributions and spending from their inaugural funds.
Saurs could not be reached for comment. William G. Thomas, a prominent Richmond lobbyist, said it was a "business decision" that prompted his firm and others that frequently do business with state government to pay for VIP tables.
"When your competitors participate" at an event sponsored by the governor, Thomas said, "you don't want to be obviously missing."