- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2003

RICHMOND — Virginia Democrats gained seats in the General Assembly for the first time in 28 years last week after making huge contributions in pivotal races in the final two weeks of the campaign.

Democratic political action committees dominated in making donations of $500 or more to their candidates from Oct. 23 until Election Day, Nov. 4, according to campaign finance data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The largest single donor in the late going was Gov. Mark Warner’s political action committee, One Virginia PAC, which doled out $327,500, records on file with the State Board of Elections as of 11 a.m. on Election Day showed.

The late-giving reports do not include contributions of less than $500.

The Democratic Party of Virginia gave $264,260 over that period, and the Commonwealth Victory Fund gave $184,187 during that time to round out the top three.

Democrats took four House seats Republicans had held, including that of one incumbent, Delegate Thomas M. Bolvin, Fairfax County Republican.

Republicans took the Democratic seat Delegate A. Victor Thomas of Roanoke vacated with his retirement.

In the Senate, the Republicans netted one additional seat Tuesday as Delegate Jeannemarie Devolites was elected to the seat Democratic Sen. Leslie L. Byrne vacated. Mrs. Byrne declined to seek a second term.

Last-minute cash infusions allow candidates to concentrate on expensive television and radio advertising, direct mail and telephone solicitations, and get-out-the-vote efforts just before Election Day when many voters are making up their minds.

Until Tuesday, the last election in which Democrats increased the number of Virginia legislative seats they held was 1975. However, they are nowhere near retaking the majorities they lost in the late 1990s. When the General Assembly convenes Jan. 14, Democrats will control 37 of the 100 House of Delegates seats and 16 of 40 Senate seats.

Virginia places no spending or fund-raising limits on candidates, but demands extensive campaign finance disclosures. From Oct. 23 through Election Day, legislative candidates were required to report contributions of $500 or more to the SBE within 24 hours.

Not all the large, late donations paid off for the Democrats. The largest single gift reported in the final days was $60,000 the Commonwealth Victory Fund gave on Oct. 27 to Democrat Stephen H. Emick.

Brandon J. Bell II took 57 percent of the vote to defeat Mr. Emick and keep retiring Sen. Malfourd W. “Bo” Trumbo’s seat in Republican hands.

In aggregate, the top recipient in the final 13 days was Democrat James E. Mitchell III, who reported 19 checks of $500 or more for a total of $140,215 in his unsuccessful challenge of Sen. Ken T. Cuccinelli, Fairfax County Republican. Mr. Cuccinelli’s late largesse was less than one-third of what Mr. Mitchell received.

Mr. Mitchell’s largest 11th-hour benefactors were the state Democratic Party ($68,584), the Democratic Senate Caucus ($25,000) and One Virginia PAC ($20,000).

Democrat Ron Christian, who lost his Senate race to Mrs. Devolites, amassed $106,555 in large donations during that time. Mrs. Devolites reported only $7,000 in large, late contributions.

Republican Dave Hunt, who lost his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Janet Howell, gave his campaign $100,000 of his own money during the final push.

Democrat Stephen Shannon, who won Mrs. Devolites’ vacant House seat for the Democrats, took in $79,340 in the final two weeks while fellow Democrat Mark Sickles reported big donations totaling $74,301 in winning 54 percent of the vote to oust Mr. Bolvin.

Mr. Shannon’s Republican opponent, Robert M. McDowell, reported only one major contribution totaling $10,000 in the final 13 days. Mr. Bolvin reported no late donations of $500 or more.

Democrat Lynwood Lewis received $45,949 in large, late donations, compared with $14,500 his Republican opponent, Thomas Dix, reported. Mr. Lewis took 59 percent of the vote in winning the Eastern Shore seat vacated by Republican Robert Bloxom’s retirement.

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