- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

Northern Virginia builders and developers supporting a sales-tax increase to improve roads are also major contributors to the politicians who will spend an estimated $5 billion in additional revenue if voters approve the referendum Tuesday.
Elected officials on the 16-member Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which will decide which road projects get those millions, received $504,000 in campaign contributions from the top 25 supporters of the sales tax, according to a review by The Washington Times of campaign finance reports and the Virginia Public Access Project database.
Gov. Mark R. Warner, who supports the tax increase and appoints two members to the authority, has received $3.9 million in contributions from developers and builders. He campaigned heavily on the issue last year and said getting the referendum passed was a top priority.
Still, Mr. Warner said yesterday the campaign contributions have not influenced his stance because he has long thought the region needed better roads to ease its infamous gridlock and commuting delays.
When asked how much the contributions have influenced him, Mr. Warner replied, "None."
Ellen Qualls, Mr. Warner's spokesman, said it's only logical that political contributors who back the tax increase would also back the politicians who would oversee the additional revenue and decide which company or neighborhood gets a road-improvement project.
State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, chairman of the Coalition Against the Tax Referendum, sees no distinction.
He said anybody who gave to Mr. Warner's Democratic gubernatorial campaign also gave to the tax increase because Republican challenger Mark L. Earley vowed to veto the legislation.
Others opposed to the tax increase say the contributions give business owners more access to the politicians.
"It is alarming how many of these folks are receiving these huge donations, especially the Republicans," said James T. Parmalee, chairman of NorthernVirginiaGOP.com, which has spent about $10,000 to oppose the sales-tax increase. "They appear to be influenced mightily by the money."
Meanwhile, Mr. Warner and supporters say groups opposed to the tax increase have not made their contribution list public.
"We don't know who is giving to the opponents because they are not even willing to disclose who their contributors are," he said Tuesday. "I am very disappointed."
Bill Lecos, finance director for Citizens for Better Transportation, said those opposing the tax increase could be supporting the same politicians as those backing it.
Though Virginia law does not require finance disclosures for issue campaigns, Citizens for Better Transportation voluntarily disclosed its contributions.
"We're fully disclosed," Mr. Lecos said. "The opposition is hiding."
He also rebuffed the idea of influence-peddling, saying contributions from businesses are part of the political process.
"The folks who are contributing to this campaign are regularly active in the political process," Mr. Lecos said.
State Reps. James P. Moran, Thomas M. Davis III and Frank R. Wolf also back the sales-tax increase and have received contributions from supporters.
Mr. Davis also dismissed the influence idea and said he probably has an equal number of contributors who support or oppose the tax increase.
"You would probably get the same correlation to contribution to the symphony," he said.
Mr. Davis said he is more influenced by resident complaints and his own travails in traffic around his district, which includes Annandale and Springfield.
"I'm tired of driving around in this," he said.
Mr. Davis also said a tax increase is the only way to get enough federal money to expand mass transit through Fairfax County and to the Washington Dulles International Airport.
Other members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority who received campaign contribution from supporters of the Coalition for Better Transportation include Fairfax County Chairman Katherine K. Hanley, state Sen. William C. Mims, Rep. John A. Rollison III, Prince William County Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, Alexandria Mayor Kerry J. Donley, and Harry J. Parrish, vice mayor of the city of Manassas.
Loudoun County Chairman Scott York, a Republican, is the only member of the authority to receive major contributions from anti-sprawl organizations, including the Piedmont Environmental Council, the major opponent to the sales-tax increase. Mr. York, an anti-development candidate, received about $40,000 in contributions from development critics.
Mrs. Hanley, who will control spending of more than half of the funds raised by the sales tax because Fairfax County will generate the largest share, has received more contributions from supporters of the sales tax than any locally elected official on the transportation authority, her campaign finance reports show. Mrs. Hanley, a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board, also received $14,250 in contributions from Metro contractors and unions.
Many of those contractors are supporting the sales-tax increase because of the possible extension of Metrorail through the Dulles corridor. Among those who contributed to Mrs. Hanley is Raytheon Engineers, a major consultant to Metro and a member of Dulles Transit Partnership. The company has contributed $2,750 to Mrs. Hanley since 1996.
The Dulles Transit Partnership is an advocate for expanding Metrorail through the Dulles Access Road corridor and comprises Ratheon, Bechtel Engineering, another Metro consultant, and the West Group, the developer of Tysons Corner. Bechtel and the West Group are also major contributors to Mrs. Hanley.
Mrs. Hanley said she is supporting the tax increase because the county needs the money to expand Metrorail and the main highways.
She said she was surprised that the major contributors to the organizations supporting the sales tax were also major contributors to herself and other members of the transportation authority.
"I get contributions from people who support and from people who oppose it," Mrs. Hanley said. "I believe gridlock and congestion are damaging our quality of life in this region. It is hurting the economy. The reason for supporting this is we are all stuck in traffic."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide