In a Metro article Wednesday about the financing of Virginia legislative campaigns, the name of Michael N. Pocalyko, a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates, was misspelled. (Published 10/15/1999)
Like other legislators preparing for next month's historic General Assembly elections, John H. "Jack" Rust Jr. (R-Fairfax) started husbanding his money early, collecting a quick $12,000 in December the day after he launched his Fund for the Future of Virginia.
However, Rust's political action committee wasn't designed for his reelection, which is now automatic because no Democrat challenged him. Instead, the money flowing through that PAC and another under his control has been spread generously across the state in pursuit of Rust's most ambitious political goal, becoming speaker of the House of Delegates.
And there's been plenty of money to distribute in a year when donors know that Republicans have a shot at a majority in the General Assembly for the first time in more than 100 years.
"People who play both sides of the fence are much more willing to play heavily on the Republican side this time," said Rust, 52. "People are anxious to be part of the change."
Virginia Republicans, led by Gov. James S. Gilmore III, have mounted a deliberate and expensive campaign to add to the 49 seats they have in the 100-member House, acquiring the legislative majority.
If they succeed, Republican House members would hold their own election, choosing a speaker from a field that likely will include Rust, Del. S. Vance Wilkins Jr. (Amherst), the current Republican House leader, and others.
The speaker is more than lord of the House. Traditionally a senior lawmaker, that delegate controls assignments to coveted committees, parking spots on the Capitol grounds, even office space in the Jefferson-designed building. As a leading traffic cop on the flow of legislation, the speaker can be a governor's best friend--or worst enemy.
Small wonder that Rust, Wilkins and a few others have had their eyes on the job for months--and are funneling money from corporate contributors and wealthy constituents to selected incumbents and challengers.
Both Rust and Wilkins, widely considered the front-runner for a GOP speakership, said that they demanded no commitments from the Republican candidates who receive their money and that their main goal is to help put their party in control.
Wilkins said he told prospective donors to his PAC "specifically [that] I'm raising it to get a majority." His Dominion Leadership Fund PAC had nearly $127,000 on hand a month ago, the most recent deadline for reporting.
Rust has contributed to more than 25 House candidates, in some cases two or three times. His efforts have been buoyed by more than $57,000 in donations to his Future Fund and an additional $151,000 to his longstanding campaign committee. Most of his gifts have been about $1,000, while others have been as high as $4,000, a considerable sum for campaigns with typical budgets of $100,000 to $200,000.
Rust said he was determined to spend basically all he raised to help win a majority. For example, on Aug. 24, he wrote checks for $4,000 each to Scott T. Klein, running for an open House seat in Fairfax County, and candidates in Hampton, the Northern Neck and Culpeper. Rust ended his summer of giving with less than $3,000 in the fund.
Klein, who has a $175,000 budget in his spirited race against Kristen J. Amundson, said he sat down with Rust at the start of his campaign for a precinct-by-precinct analysis of the race. "From day one, he's been supportive," Klein said. "He would make a very good speaker."
Klein said he did not question Rust's motives in giving, nor did Michael N. Pocalyco, also an old friend who is running for the House in the Reston area. Rust gave him $500 in May and again in August to unseat Del. Kenneth R. Plum, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
"Jack's a dealmaker in the best sense of the word," Pocalyco said. "He's a conciliator. Even when you disagree with him, he can articulate the argument in a way to reach common ground."
Rust's base in the Washington suburbs may give him an advantage in any contest for a new speaker, but the lawyer who knows how to count votes on the House floor knows that several obstacles stand between him and that office.
"My first objective," he said, "is to get a Republican majority."
Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-McLean), who has served under three Democratic speakers in more than 30 years in the House, said the Rust and Wilkins PACs add to an ever-widening "spiral of money."
"It keeps going up," said Callahan, who spent $5,000 in his first campaign in 1967 and will top $200,000 this year. "It's easier to raise money. There's more of it around."
Callahan, widely considered a favorite for reelection, received an unsolicited $1,500 from Wilkins.
"He called me and asked if I could use the money," Callahan recalled today. "I said, 'Sure.' "
CAPTION: John H. "Jack" Rust Jr., who has his eye on being speaker, is disbursing funds through his PAC in an effort to garner a Republican majority in the House.