- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

RICHMOND | A billionaire co-founder of the Black Entertainment Television network and influential Democratic donor on Monday endorsed Republican Robert F. McDonnell for Virginia governor.

Sheila Johnson of The Plains, the second-largest individual donor to Gov. Tim Kaine and a benefactor of prominent Democrats, including Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, appeared with Mr. McDonnell in Richmond.

“I have been a lifelong Democrat, and I’m still a Democrat,” Mrs. Johnson said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.

Mrs. Johnson said she favors Mr. McDonnell over his Democratic opponent, R. Creigh Deeds, because she thinks the Republican can turn around the state’s ailing economy.

“From the beginning, Bob McDonnell has been very concerned about the economy,” she said. “He has really laid out a roadmap for solving these problems.”

With no limits in Virginia on how much donors can give or candidates can spend in state elections, Mrs. Johnson’s backing potentially puts a rich source of funding at Mr. McDonnell’s disposal and sends a signal to black voters that were already a concern for Mr. Deeds and his backers.

In a surprisingly easy primary victory, the state senator from rural Bath County had his weakest showings in largely black communities. The only congressional district Mr. Deeds lost was the majority-black 3rd, that of Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia’s first elected black member of Congress.

Mrs. Johnson’s endorsement came as Mr. Deeds appeared in Roanoke with Mr. Warner to unveil his plan for shoring up the economy. Like Mr. McDonnell, Mr. Deeds called for strengthening distressed rural economies and providing tax credits to businesses that create jobs.

Mrs. Johnson said Mr. Deeds’ ideas were not original.

“It almost looks like a carbon copy of what Bob McDonnell has been talking about from the very beginning,” she said.

Mrs. Johnson said Mr. McDonnell wants to help both large and small businesses and has valuable experience as an executive with a Fortune 500 company.

Mr. Deeds’ campaign did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment about Mrs. Johnson’s endorsement.

Mrs. Johnson accompanied Mr. Kaine to last year’s Democratic National Convention. She was a member of the convention’s rules committee and gave a speech to the Democratic Women’s Caucus.

Mrs. Johnson has given more than $600,000 to Mr. Kaine. She has given the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee $103,000 and the Democratic National Committee more than $63,000 since 2000.

Her giving, however, is not exclusively Democratic. She has given at least $15,000 to Republicans, including Rep. Frank R. Wolf and former Sen. John W. Warner, both of Virginia, and Mark Tate’s unsuccessful bid for a House of Delegates seat.

Mrs. Johnson and her former husband, Robert Johnson, founded BET and sold it in 2000 to Viacom for $3 billion. She was a supporter last year of Barack Obama in the presidential race, as was Mr. Kaine.

Another prominent black Virginian, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, said in an interview Monday that political operatives for President Obama are urging him to get behind Mr. Deeds.

“I told them, ‘You need to tell me why,’ ” said Mr. Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor and author of Virginia’s one-gun-a-month law, which Mr. Deeds opposed as a legislator.

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