A leading Northern Virginia developer has urged others in the business community to make campaign donations of $100 to two candidates for county supervisor, pointing out that contributions of that amount do not have to be reported to the public.
Contributions from developers have become a major issue in campaigns in Loudoun, the nation's third-fastest-growing county where all of the supervisors' seats are up for election on Nov. 2. Several candidates have refused to accept money from the building industry, saying that donations in the past have unduly influenced the board's decisions.
The latest reflection of the debate appeared after Jeffrey Sneider, a co-owner of Vienna-based Greenvest L.C., sent a letter on company stationery asking for the donations to two candidates he called "pro-business": Bruce E. Tulloch, the Republican in the Broad Run District, and Ellen D. Oliver, an independent in the Dulles District.
Their opponents said the letter showed developers were trying to secretly influence Loudoun politics. State law requires candidates to disclose the source of their donations only when the amount is more than $100.
"They are making an arrogant attempt to buy this election and then hide the fact that they are doing so," said Timothy F. Powers, an independent candidate for supervisor in Broad Run. "I have a message for residential developers: You have stolen your last election and you have bought your last politician in my part of Loudoun County."
Sneider did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Vivian Hood, a Greenvest spokeswoman, said that the letter represented no effort to hide development donations and that the reference to $100 contributions was simply meant to explain the campaign finance rules. She said the company was trying to muster support for candidates who shared its views, the way that environmental or other groups do.
"To me, this kind of fund-raising and recommendations--this is what goes on all the time," Hood said. "I haven't seen anywhere that it's shady." Greenvest is the developer of the Cascades community in Loudoun and other projects.
The letter, which Hood said went to "business contacts and friends of the company," read in part: "Pro-business board candidates need funds to send out last mailers. I would appreciate it if you and other management individuals would support this final effort. You can do that by writing $100 checks payable to the following candidates who are up against stop growth candidates. The checks do not have to be reported."
Several in the development industry said that making donations of $100 or less protects them and the candidates they support from unfair attack. Many builders say that they are being wrongly blamed for crowded schools and congested roads that come with population growth.
"For the developers, to me, it's more that you're under the radar screen" by donating $100 or less, said Robert M. Gordon, a Northern Virginia land use lawyer. "You don't get trashed. Your candidate doesn't get trashed."
Powers and J. Drew Hiatt, the Republican candidate in the Dulles District, argued that the letter shows Tulloch and Oliver are in the pocket of the development industry.
But Tulloch and Oliver said they had no knowledge of the letter. Both said that they had not received donations in any amount from developers and that they wanted what was best for the county--not the building industry.
Tulloch said he has not and would not accept donations from development interests. "I am completely honored that Greenvest sees me as a pro-business candidate," Tulloch said. "I am nobody's lapdog. Never have been been. Never will be."
Oliver said she has "a strong position in favor of making developers pay their fair share."
Powers and Hiatt called on their opponents to disclose all donations under $100 and to do so every 48 hours. Tulloch yesterday provided a list of his donations of $100 or less through August; Oliver would not, saying the law did not require it. Tulloch and Oliver said they would not provide a list of donations every 48 hours.
Staff researcher Bridget Roeber contributed to this report.