Business executives from throughout Virginia announced Tuesday that they have raised $1 million to help defend the political fortunes of Republican state delegates who voted in favor of a tax increase during the extended 2004 General Assembly session.
The executives have formed a political action committee, called Leadership for Virginia, which they said is designed to counter any effort by tax opponents to oust the delegates during Republican primaries in the spring.
The group is headed by James Hazel, a Northern Virginia high-tech executive who worked as a lobbyist for Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), and by Anne G. Rhodes, a former Republican delegate from the Richmond area. Rhodes survived a primary fight in 1999 against a conservative who had the backing of then-governor James S. Gilmore III (R).
"We believe good government is rooted in a philosophy of fiscal conservatism centered on adequately funding our essential public services," Hazel said.
Hazel said the new group, which was first made public several months ago, waited to make a formal announcement until it had raised enough money to make what it deemed significant contributions to the politicians.
"We set as a goal when we started that we wanted to have $1 million by the end of the year," he said. "Now that we have the first million, we start working on the next million."
The first test of the organization could come soon. Del. Thelma B. Drake (R-Norfolk) was elected to Congress on Nov. 2. On Tuesday, Warner called for a special election to be held Dec. 14 to fill her House of Delegates seat.
Residents in Virginia Beach and part of Norfolk will choose between Republican Michael Ball, chairman of the Republican Party's 2nd Congressional District committee, and Paula Miller, a former TV journalist. Drake will replace Rep. Edward L. Schrock (R-Virginia Beach), who decided not to seek reelection after a Web site posted statements saying he had solicited gay sex.
Hazel said his organization is "certainly aware" of the upcoming race. He said Leadership for Virginia might contribute money to try to ensure election of a candidate who supports investment in the state's infrastructure.
But he said the group's focus will be on protecting incumbents.
Last spring, leaders of national anti-tax organizations vowed to spend whatever it takes to oust the Republican delegates and senators who helped pass a compromise tax increase and break a two-month budget deadlock. Delegates face reelection in 2005.
Grover Norquist, leader of Americans for Tax Reform, created a "Virginia's Least Wanted" poster picturing lawmakers who voted for the compromise. Ninety thousand of the posters were mailed to Virginia residents this month.
"They voted for the tax increase," Norquist said in September. "I don't care how much money they raise, they can't get away from the fact they lied to get into office and did a very bad and destructive thing for Virginia."
The lawmakers who voted for the budget compromise see things differently.
Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax) said he is proud of the votes he made, even though he expects to be challenged in a Republican primary in the summer. He said he was happy to hear that the new PAC might help him raise money to defend against such a challenge.
"It's a very good thing," Rust said. "A number of us did what we thought was the responsible action in the budget debate. This group coming forward, it helps to offset, counterbalance those who are on the other side of the issue."
Staff writer Chris L. Jenkins contributed to this report.