Senate and House Republicans plan to separate their fundraising efforts, scaling back the once highly successful collaboration that helped the GOP win control of the legislature several years ago.
The functions of the Joint Republican Caucus, which has raised money for all party members, will be diverted to a separate political action committee that senators will run on their own. House Republicans already run two major political action committees to raise funds for GOP delegates.
The caucus was formed when Republicans made up a minority of the 140 lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly and needed the combined strength of senators and delegates to raise money for challengers hoping to topple Democrats.
"When we were in the minority, we didn't have the money to work independently," said Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico). "This will give us much more flexibility to run our caucus more effectively."
Stosch said the pressures of running a large joint caucus with divergent opinions on major themes had put stresses on the money-raising organization. Republican senators and delegates disagreed bitterly about the $1.5 billion in tax and fee increases passed this year by the General Assembly.
"It's undeniable that we have different views on things sometimes, and it's hard to have one voice during those times," Stosch added.
Students of Virginia politics said that the move indicates GOP senators' concern about having to raise money for delegates who do not share their more moderate views on taxes and other issues.
"It certainly serves a broader Senate purpose, which is to ensure that they can raise money for candidates that they deem appropriate," said Robert Holsworth, a professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Several House Republicans said they were unaware of specific plans by senators but had heard that discussions had taken place about splitting apart the fundraising aspects of the caucus.
"There have been discussions on the House side about more coordinated fundraising efforts," said Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta), chairman of the House Republican Caucus. "With House Republicans, it could be more effective and efficient to try and consolidate [fundraising] in some form or fashion."
The clearest sign of the split came yesterday afternoon when Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr. (Hanover), chairman of the Joint Republican Caucus, sent an e-mail to all House Republicans and a couple of Senate Republicans announcing that the organization's executive director, J. Scott Leake, was leaving after nearly 12 years to take "a newly created position serving members of the Senate."
He added, "Scott's departure may encourage us to reconsider the role and scope of the Joint Caucus."
Some delegates said the new organization would be fine with them.
"I've been a proponent of getting rid of the joint caucus for a while," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax). "I think it actually helps us, because we would have a little more control over our fundraising," Albo said.
A limited amount of fundraising may continue. For instance, the caucus is sponsoring a weekend fundraiser in Virginia Beach in September that will include golf and dinner.
Some lawmakers said that they were not in favor of splitting the fundraising effort and that Republican strength lies in numbers.
"I'm not so sure that this is the best idea," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax), who first ran as a Republican more than 40 years ago. "We need to stick together. . . . It's tantamount to 'divide and conquer.' "