Virginia's extended General Assembly session is over, but the political repercussions from the tax debate continue to ripple through the commonwealth as lawmakers begin in earnest to raise money for reelection campaigns next year.
Six Republicans in the House of Delegates received unusually blunt rejections last week to their requests for money from the political action committee for one of the state's most powerful interest groups, the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, which represents nursing homes and hospitals across the state.
The letter, signed by Katharine M. Webb, the group's top lobbyist, said the lawmakers did not deserve financial support because of their opposition to the final budget, which included $1.5 billion in tax increases over two years. Webb's association was a key part of the coalition that pushed for the tax increases.
"HOSPAC's financial support must be contingent on a recognition that it is reasonable for health care providers to be paid for the costs they incur to deliver services to Medicaid patients," the letter stated. "Your failure to vote for a budget that only provided a modest increase places us in the difficult position of denying your contribution request."
Webb's letter has riled GOP lawmakers in the House, who called it an unfair appraisal of their support for hospitals and a breach of the relationship between elected officials and lobbyists.
The letter has also stunned some longtime Richmond observers, who say it offers a rare view of the true link between policy and campaign fundraising.
"It's a real big look under the tent. It is rare that you see things spelled out with such clarity," said Bill Allison, a spokesman for the Center for Public Integrity in Washington. "A lot of these things are usually inferred. For somebody to put it down in writing is incredibly rare."
Webb, a veteran lobbyist, said her group sent the letter as a way of spelling out just how important the 2004 session was to the group's membership. Even with the tax increases that passed, she said, state funding will leave some hospitals unable to care for thousands of Medicaid patients.
Webb said the letter was sent to lawmakers who voted against the association's interest on six key votes on taxes and the budget.
"You have to at some point say our priorities are these, there are consequences when these priorities are not met," Webb said. "Not giving money to people whose priorities are different is not new. What's new is telling people why."
Brett A. Vassey, president and chief executive of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, said many groups will be making similar decisions about campaign contributions by tallying up the voting records for the session.
"I don't think Katie's alone," he said. "We are adding a greater level of analysis to the voting history of legislators before we give anything. And we are advising our members to do the same. Katie is always pushing the envelope."
Some said they believe Webb has pushed too far.
Del. William R. Janis (R-Goochland), who received one of the letters, said he was offended because it suggested to him that he could get money from the association if he changes the way he votes.
"She crosses the line between proper advocacy on behalf of her association, and she creates the impression that somehow votes are for sale," Janis said. "Well, I'm sorry. My vote is not for sale."
Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax), who also received a letter, pointed out that lawmakers are scheduled to vote next week on proposed amendments to the budget by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). He said Webb's letter could be interpreted as a promise of money in exchange for voting a certain way on one of those amendments.
"I think this is over the top and beyond belief," Hugo said. "We are not finished with the budget. I would be worried, Democrat or Republican, about accepting any contributions from the hospital association."
Webb said the association did nothing more than clearly communicate its position to the lawmakers.
And she said that Hugo and the other lawmakers were the ones who asked for contributions weeks ago, prompting her letters. She questioned their concern about the ethical implications of receiving her letter before the amendments were voted on. "If that was so important to them, why did they ask for money well before the budget was done?" she asked.