More developers than ‘Citizens’ giving to tax PAC

Sometimes, as a lawyer, you want to be involved in a case because you want to ask just one question. Witness the litigation currently being conducted over so-called campaign finance reform legislation sponsored primarily by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and John McCain (R-Arizona).

Both Senators, and any number of other hangers-on, have for years waxed demagogic about the evils of money in politics. “Corrupting,” they’ve told us. “Influence-peddling,” say others. “Free expression,” say … oh, well, never mind that.

Which brings me to my point. With McCain and Feingold “intervening” in the case challenging the law, I’d like to ask just one question and insist upon one straight answer:

“Senators, throughout the debate on your legislation and in numerous media appearances, you have stated that money is corrupting, that it is used to influence members of Congress and that it is used to virtually buy votes. With those statements in mind, please identify: (1) every individual member of Congress so influenced; (2) the issues upon which they were influenced; and (3) each and every vote cast which was influenced by campaign contributions.”

One can only imagine the manner in which they would flee from the room in horror. Heaven forbid that they should have to identify in particular those they have been slandering generally.

It would be fun, however, even to those among us not assuming that political contributions equal political influence, or political corruption, to put on the spot those who do.

As a rare contributor (small-time) and a former candidate (also, small-time), I know in my experience that political contributions do not equal political corruption. There are many good reasons to contribute to a political candidate. Friendship, for one. This year, for instance, the Youngs have made but a single donation to a political candidate, one not even on the ballot this year and under whose jurisdiction we do not fall. The reason? He is a friend of many years’ standing and we believe in putting good men and women into public office.

Likewise, when I was a candidate for the Dumfries School Board, my first appeals were to, and my first contributions were from, friends. Most were of many years’ (if not decades) standing; two law school friends now in the Midwest; college classmates, including two whose views differ substantially from my own; college professors; a college president; a nationally-syndicated columnist. None lived in the Dumfries District, so none contributed to buy my influence. All contributed I hope because they wanted to see a good man in public office.

But when the question is a ballot issue, and the contributions are huge, the quality would seem to change with the quantity.

That would certainly seem to be the case with the misnomered “Citizens for Better Transportation,” (CBT) which really should be called “Wealthy Developers and Bureaucrats for Higher Taxes.” A brief visit to the Web site of the Virginia Public Access Project, [] tells why.

In a state which has a campaign finance law operating under the theory that exposure is the most important element of a responsive system, VPAP apparently operates under the theory that information is like manure, good only when spread around. Thus, it provides fundamental data, in a non-partisan manner, with very little analysis, to improve public understanding of money in politics. It is a handy reference telling who, doing what, is spending what on whom. Or more simply, the name and primary business of each contributor to each candidate for state office and, this year, on the various referenda.

Thus, one can go to the Web site to learn that the environmentalist crowd is right this tax increase is a sprawl tax, funded mainly by those profiting most from sprawl: the builders and the banks. More than half of the money raised by CBT ($430,000 out of nearly $701,000 through Aug. 31) comes from 16 donations of between $100,000 and $5,000 from real estate and construction companies, or their owners, and political action committees. What is most interesting is learning how few of the funding sources for the tax advocates are actually citizens.

To be sure, there are a few individual big money donors to CBT, but all are developers. The biggest single donor is Myron P. Erkiletian ($100,000), from Alexandria. The only two other individuals to make the top 25 are builder extraordinaire John T. “Til” Hazel Jr. ($25,000), of Broad Run, and B. Mark Fried ($25,000), of Springfield, like Erkiletian, listing his occupation as “Real Estate Developer.”

Thirteen of the remaining top 25 are real estate companies (Til Hazel’s construction company kicked in another $25,000), or their PACs. First Virginia Bank, closely allied with the real estate companies, also contributed a $100,000 donation. Thus, fully 75 percent of all monies donated through Aug. 31 to the tax increase crowd were builders, or developers, or those standing to profit from their business.

Equally interesting is the statistical breakdown of the donations. Only 40 donations to CBT were for $100 or less, for a total of $989, or about $25 per donation. Four hundred-nine donations were for $100 or more, totaling $700,008, or an average donation of $1,711.51. In short, through Aug. 31, the average donation to CBT was over $1,500, demonstrating the predominance of big money donations.

Equally astonishing was the scarcity of donations from people in Prince William and Loudoun counties or Manassas. Only two dozen donations (of 449) came from these jurisdictions, with many from candidate’s committees or political wannabes unwisely hitching themselves to the tax increase bandwagon.

But one look at the donations to CBT demonstrates conclusively that the “Citizens” in the name of the tax advocates’ lobbying group should be removed, and replaced with a name identifying the true nature of those most supportive of higher taxes: Developers and Bureaucrats.

An attorney, Young lives with his wife and their two sons in Montclair.

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