Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates have requested that the state attorney general review a letter from a veteran lobbyist who they said improperly linked campaign contributions to their voting records.
The letter by Katharine M. Webb, the top lobbyist for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, rejected the delegates' requests for contributions by saying that support from the group's political action committee "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."
Webb said the letter went to six Republican lawmakers who voted against the interests of her membership on six important occasions.
In a letter to Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R), Republican Caucus Chairman R. Steven Landes (Augusta) said he believes the lobbyist's statement violates laws that cover bribery.
"Ms. Webb's suggestion that . . . financial support is contingent upon how we vote creates the impression that this lobbyist is engaged in a systematic effort to trade votes on specific legislation for financial support," Landes wrote.
In an interview, Landes said he believes the attorney general could refer the issue to the Henrico County commonwealth's attorney for further investigation.
"I felt like I'm concerned about it enough to raise the flag and say, we have to look at this," Landes said. "This is something we should not be doing."
Webb said flatly that her organization did nothing wrong by writing the letter.
"My letter does not tie votes to campaign contributions. We were simply responding to the many requests for contributions we have received," she said. "This association would never, ever, ever -- positively never -- try to buy a vote."
Del. John S. "Jack" Reid (R-Henrico), one of the lawmakers who received Webb's original letter, called it "tacky" and said he rejects the idea that lawmakers cast their votes so they get campaign contributions.
"There are a lot of people who have given to me where I have voted against the legislation they supported," Reid said.
But others said no one should be surprised that there is a connection between campaign contributions and voting behavior
Bill Allison, a spokesman for the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, said that pattern is well established in state and national politics.
"It seems obvious to me that an interest group gives money to elect lawmakers they agree with," Allison said. In this case, he said, "the reason they are not getting money is because they didn't vote the way the interest group wanted them to."
Webb, who has lobbied on behalf of hospitals and other health care organizations for more than two decades, said she welcomes any investigation.
"We will look forward to meeting with whomever is responsible for these issues," she said, noting that she hopes an investigation looks at "both political giving and the asking for political contributions."
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) defended Webb and said her organization's actions were no different from those of the National Rifle Association, which rarely gives money to lawmakers who support gun control.
"This is just the most absurd thing I've ever heard. Why would [the hospital association] want to contribute to the campaigns of someone who never supports their issues?" he said, adding that the Republicans' effort is "tantamount to extortion. They are saying, give to my campaign or I'll report you to the attorney general. The voters ought to show them the door."
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Kilgore, said his office is reviewing the letter from Landes.