- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 17, 2009

RICHMOND | For the third year, a Republican bill aimed at the Democrats’ lucrative February fundraising gala has won House passage.

And for the third straight year, it’s likely to die: if not in the Democratic-controlled Senate, then by veto from a governor who will soon take over the Democratic National Committee.

Democrats decried Staunton Republican Delegate Chris Saxman’s bill Friday in 53 minutes of partisan floor debate as political gamesmanship. Its purpose, they said, was not to promote ethics in campaign finance but to torpedo their party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, usually held at the middle of the General Assembly session.

Even so, 27 Democrats joined 50 Republicans to pass the measure 78-14 and advance it to the Senate.

Delegate Robert Brink, Arlington Democrat, said the bill was a final reprisal by Republicans still reeling from historic election losses last fall.

“On Tuesday, Barack Obama, the first Democrat to carry Virginia since the Earth’s crust was cooling will be sworn in as our 44th president,” Mr. Brink said.

Mr. Obama addressed Virginia’s 2007 and 2008 Jefferson-Jackson Dinners and helped the state Democratic Party raise hundreds of thousands of dollars en route to becoming the first Democrat to carry the state since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

“Like the (Japanese) soldiers who holed up in caves in the South Pacific and kept fighting long after World War II had ended, some folks haven’t gotten the memo that the 2008 campaign is over,” Mr. Brink said.

State law prohibits legislators or statewide elected officials from raising money while the legislature is in session, a measure intended to allay the perception that legislation can be bought through campaign contributions.

Mr. Saxman’s bill would extend the current law to bar legislators or statewide officials from even attending fundraising events during the legislative session.

It also poses potential problems for Gov. Tim Kaine, the incoming chairman of the Democratic National Committee. It could apply to events like the black-tie Virginia Ball on Monday, the eve of the Obama inauguration, that Mr. Kaine and Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Mark R. Warner are jointly hosting in Arlington. Tickets start at $200 apiece with sponsorships starting at $1,000.

Democratic legislators for decades have remained in Richmond through the first weekend in February for the formal Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Their attendance at an event the party organizes does not constitute fundraising, they say.

Mr. Saxman’s new restriction, they said, could ensnare well-meaning legislators who attend functions promoting charities or civic organizations.

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