Virginia lawmakers on both sides of the state's contentious debate over taxes are reporting healthy campaign donations from individuals, political action committees and corporations in their first campaign finance disclosures since the end of the extended General Assembly session in May.
Republican moderates in the House of Delegates who led a rebellion against their party leadership were among the top fundraisers, according to data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr. (R-Lynchburg) has raised $49,811 since the beginning of the year. Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) has raised $39,795.
Most of their money came at a single event: a joint June 16 fundraiser at a Richmond restaurant, Richbrau Brewing Company. Both Jones and Bryant, who led the effort to reach a tax compromise with the state Senate and Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), have about $140,000 on hand for their 2005 campaigns.
"As the Boy Scouts say, 'always be prepared,' " Bryant said.
Some lawmakers who opposed the tax increases also have done well. Del. William R. Janis (R-Goochland), who vigorously opposed the increases, topped the list of House fundraisers, taking in $62,368. Majority Whip M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who served as a budget negotiator and a key opponent of tax increases, raised $41,230.
Cox said he raised most of that money at an annual breakfast fundraiser. He credited many of the contributions to his position in the budget fight with Warner.
"I don't think there was any question that people were very supportive largely because of my stand against taxes," he said.
Political observers in Virginia are watching the flow of money closely in the wake of the tax fight, which split Virginia's Republican Party and caused a rift with many of the state's largest businesses.
"Everyone realizes that it's going to be an expensive campaign season next year, so everyone's out there aggressively raising money," said G. Paul Nardo, chief aide to House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). The state's elected officials are barred from raising contributions during a legislative session.
Some had predicted that anti-tax Republicans would lose support from business groups, many of which pushed for higher taxes and more investment in roads, schools, universities and health care.
Katharine M. Webb, the top lobbyist at the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, said her group donated to politicians who supported additional investment in the state. The organization gave $2,331.90 to Bryant and the same amount to Jones. It gave none to Cox, Janis and some other anti-tax lawmakers.
Bryant and Jones "were willing to take the risk to get Virginia to the point where we could actually have revenues that allowed a budget to be negotiated," Webb said. "Without their commitment to find real revenue, we would never have gotten to a budget."
The Virginia Sheriffs' Association also contributed with the tax debate in mind, according to John W. Jones, its executive director. Dels. Jones and Bryant got $1,500 each from the organization, and some Democrats and moderate Republicans who voted for the final tax plan received $250 each.
"It's about not having public safety on the cheap," said Jones, the executive director. "Anybody can vote to lock folks up. It takes a little more guts to lock folks up and pay for it. I want to make sure that those people who stood up for public safety got rewarded."
But the campaign finance records released this week suggest that many organizations did not make their contributions based solely on how lawmakers voted on the tax issue.
The political action committee formed by employees of Dominion Virginia Power gave $2,000 to Bryant and $500 to Jones. They also gave $1,000 each to Cox and Janis.
Dominion spokeswoman Eva Hardy said the PAC considered votes on the tax plan and its impact on investment in education. But she said the PAC also looked at a variety of other considerations, including: giving to candidates who represent areas where Dominion owns plants, a lawmaker's general stand on business issues, regulatory and environmental votes and leadership potential.
"We have a very active group of people and a diverse group of people," Hardy said. "We're not a single-issue company in terms of the way we look at the world."
Walter C. Ayers, chief lobbyist for the Virginia Bankers Association, echoed that sentiment. His organization gave $1,000 or $1,500 to just about all of the top fundraisers.
"We were never involved on either side of the tax fight," Ayers said. "We were more general -- whether we think the candidate is one who understands general business issues, free enterprise and has an open door to hear your case."
Nardo said the campaign information shows that big businesses are willing to support candidates across the ideological spectrum.
"It's a little too early to say the voice of business is going to do this or that," he said.
Staff writer Chris L. Jenkins contributed to this report.