Sean K. Connaughton, Republican challenger for chairman of the Board of County Supervisors, kicked off the latest and potentially most contentious arm of his campaign platform yesterday, calling for an "ethics policy" to regulate supervisors' campaign practices and questioning the "old boys' network" he says exists under Democratic incumbent Kathleen K. Seefeldt.
"The issue here is do what's right," Connaughton said, standing by a banner reading "Not For Sale" in front of the McCourt Administration Building yesterday morning. "That transcends politics."
"He's essentially accusing board members of wrongdoing, and that's just outrageous," Seefeldt said later. "I would characterize this as politics of desperation."
Connaughton, a Triangle lawyer who has criticized the county's development policy, said that under his chairmanship, he would press the board to adopt a series of changes to lessen the "possibilities of conflict of interest" in its daily duties. The new practices, he said, would encourage the disclosure of campaign contributors and prevent supervisors from voting on matters concerning any person or organization that contributed to their campaigns.
Connaughton said the changes are aimed at lessening the influence of special interest groups, especially those of developers and builders.
As things stand, he said, "you just have to sit there and wonder sometimes why certain projects go through." Connaughton added that residents leave board meetings feeling like they have not been heard. "Time and time again you'll hear them say, 'The decision was already made.' "
While suggesting that supervisors recuse themselves from votes that affect anyone who has contributed to their campaigns, Connaughton criticized Seefeldt, saying she is too dependent on development interests. "She obviously is taking from a very narrow group in the county," he said.
Seefeldt has derived much of her campaign war chest from development interests--as much as half of her total itemized contributions during one recent reporting period. But that's not unusual among incumbents in Northern Virginia. Seefeldt says her smaller contributions and donations from a variety of businesses "shows a very, very broad basis of support" within the county.
Most of Connaughton's campaign funding came in the form of a $25,000 loan to himself, which he has said was a means toward steering clear of taking money from special interest groups. But it also raises the question of where a candidate could get campaign money if not from his own pocket.
Seefeldt bristled at her challenger's statements that because of the "status quo" residents have lost faith in their county government.
Connaughton suggested "that the government is not respected or trusted, and I don't believe that," Seefeldt said, listing institutions such as America Online Inc. and George Mason University that the board has lured to the county in recent years.
"Business doesn't flourish and thrive as it does here if government isn't trusted," she said.
Connaughton also said the county should list the names of all lawyers, contractors and investors connected with projects requesting land-use changes. He said supervisors should list the origin of even campaign contributions of $100 or less, which the state does not currently require--a move Seefeldt said she would not oppose.
Asked whether he feared alienating himself from the rest of the board, Connaughton narrowed his focus.
"This is not an attack on the whole board," he said. "When the chairman is the one that's ahead of the line on the feeding trough, I can't blame the other supervisors for taking her lead."
Seefeldt sees him attacking the whole board.
"He's conducting a lot of innuendo here," she said of her challenger for the at-large seat. "His accusations here are very broad and sweeping."