Developers, Builders Among Largest Connolly Contributors
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly has received more than a third of his campaign contributions from the real estate development and construction industries, according to financial reports.
Connolly (D), who is running for a second term, is the top fundraiser on the local level in Northern Virginia, the reports show. He has amassed $311,700 from developers and builders, which is 38.5 percent of the $808,293 he has raised since the beginning of 2004, according to an analysis conducted for The Washington Post by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project.
The analysis is likely to give new impetus to charges that Connolly is too close to the county’s development community, which Connolly disputes. Real estate and construction interests are Connolly’s most generous supporters by far, according to the reports, surpassing companies and individuals in technology and communication ($103,830), the legal community ($69,057), retail and service businesses ($58,490) and public employees ($43,065).
The least active donor groups were in the health-care ($5,313) and defense ($4,810) sectors, according to the analysis by the Richmond-based group, which will post its findings tomorrow of campaign spending in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties on its Web site, Vpap.org.
Among the largest contributors to Connolly are major landowners in Tysons Corner — Lerner Corp. and the WestGroup. They have helped give Connolly an overwhelming financial advantage over his two opponents in the November elections, Re- publican Gary H. Baise and Independent Glenda “Gail” Parker. Baise, who formally entered the race only a few weeks ago, reports $10,400, nearly all of it his own money. Parker reports $110.
Connolly said Friday he has not done his own analysis of his funding and that he has no way of knowing whether the Virginia Public Access Project is accurate. He did say, however, that the emphasis on development money gives a skewed picture of his support.
“I think my contributions show broad business support across a wide spectrum,” he said. “To focus on one aspect of the donor base distorts it. A fair statement would be that I’ve raised a lot of money from hundreds of donors across a broad spectrum of the public.”
Baise, a Washington lawyer who represents corporate clients in environmental litigation, said he wasn’t surprised by the Virginia Public Access Project’s findings. “The analysis I want to see is how close the dates of these contributions are to votes the board took on applications [for rezoning].” Baise said he had no specific examples of campaign contributions that directly followed favorable votes.
Connolly said there are none. “Nobody is able to cite a single example of a quid pro quo for anybody,” Connolly said. “I don’t operate that way.”
James Hyland, new chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, said Connolly’s numbers represented “local funding on steroids” and an attempt to place county politics on a big-money, urban footing. “This will be the first million-dollar chairman’s race,” Hyland said. “He’s acting like a big-city mayor. . . . I sense there is some anxiety about the direction we’re moving in.”
Connolly, who raised about $750,000 for his 2003 campaign against Republican Mychele B. Brickner, said large parts of Fairfax will always remain suburban and rural. But he is seeking $1 million for this campaign year because the size of the county demands it.
“I represent the equivalent of two congressional districts,” he said. “It’s a big media market and trying to reach people is extremely expensive.”
Baise said he was arranging a series of fundraisers over the next several weeks, and that his target was $500,000 to $600,000.
The Virginia Public Access Project, founded in 1997, is a nonpartisan organization that uses information technology to improve public understanding of the role money plays in Virginia politics. It takes campaign contribution reports filed by candidates and assigns each donor one of 200 occupational codes. These are based either on descriptions provided by the campaigns or on the Virginia Public Access Project’s research, which can include consultations with campaign staffs, online searches, or, in some instances, phone calls to donors.
Not all contributions can be accounted for. The group said it was unable to assign an occupation code to Connolly campaign donations totaling $15,714.
The group used more than a dozen occupational categories to determine Connolly’s real estate and development community support. These included architects, engineers, property managers, home builders, general contractors, real estate agents, land-use attorneys and title companies.
Tysons Corner land interests figured prominently in contributions to Connolly. Donations totaling more than $14,000 came from executives of the WestGroup, including President and Chief Executive Gerald T. Halpin, Senior Vice President John C. Ulfelder and Executive Vice President Donna P. Shafer. Lerner Corp., which will soon start building the first of eight office towers at Tysons Corner, contributed $17,500. Wilmorite Property Management, which operates Tysons Corner mall, donated $10,000.
Cyrus J. Katzen, a dentist-turned-developer who played a major role in the growth of Tysons and Baileys Crossroads, has contributed $35,000 to Connolly since 2004. Washington Group International, an engineering firm that is part of Dulles Transit Partners, the consortium that will build the Metro rail extension to Dulles International Airport, donated $4,000.
Other members of the Board of Supervisors are relying heavily on the real estate and construction sector for campaign funds. Nearly half of the $102,659 raised by Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) has come from those occupational categories, as do just under 37 percent of Supervisor Penelope A. Gross’s (D-Mason) $140,779. Database editor Derek Willis of Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive contributed to this report.