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State senator criticizes Homestead donor retreats

Rosalind Helderman

Democratic State Sen. Chap Petersen (Fairfax) says he thinks his party's annual retreat for high dollar donors is inconsistent with the party's goal of "giving a voice to working people" and that he "largely agrees" with criticism of the yearly fundraiser.

In a lengthy post on his blog, Petersen wrote that he believes Virginia should limit large campaign donations and lobbyist gifts, rules that would put an end to the retreat, which has been held since the late 1980s as a fundraiser for the party's House of Delegates and Senate caucuses.

"Some day, a new regime will come along and there will be a change in this state in terms of corporate access or influence. It doesn't mean that the current way is corrupt or illegal. It's neither. But there will be a change," he wrote. But he said until the rules change, he will continue to help his party raise money through the retreat. "Mom didn't raise an idiot," he wrote.

The GOP holds a similar annual retreat for members and lobbyists. This year Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) took allies -- including corporate types and lobbyists -- to the Homestead to thank them for their support. Open government advocates have long criticized the events for giving big donors too much closed door access to elected officials.

This week, an odd-couple alliance of Democratic blogger Ben Tribbett and the conservative Americans for Prosperity have also been highlighting the retreats. AFP sent a staffer and paid for Tribbett to attend the Democrats' event in Hot Springs. Tribbett wrote one post about the event Wednesday, calling for his party to end the practice and indicating that he would post a second item Thursday.

AFP State Director Ben Marchi said his group believes the retreats are bad government, allowing big donors access to lawmakers not available to the rest of the public. He said his criticisms apply equally to the GOP, his group's usual ally, though acknowledges that AFP did not crash the Republican's retreat in May as it has now done with the Democrats.

Though the retreats have been held for years, Marchi said his group only recently learned what they are like. He did not rule out sending a staffer to next year's Republican retreat.

"Virginians expect their government to be open and accessible," Marchi said. "Open and accessible does not mean you should have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to spend time with your legislators. That transcends party."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  July 8, 2010; 12:56 PM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
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Comments

"This week, an odd-couple alliance of Democratic blogger Ben Tribbett and the conservative Americans for Prosperity have also been highlighting the retreats. AFP sent a staffer and paid for Tribbett to attend the Democrats' event in Hot Springs."

You should correct this statement, to read "former Democratic blogger Ben Tribbett. . . "

Tribbett has not been a "Democratic blogger" for several years.

Posted by: TomPaine2 | July 9, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Ben Tribbett was formally kicked out of the Democratic Party in 2005 when he actively supported a Republican candidate against David Marsden in a House of Delegates election.

It is no surprise that Tribbett hooked up with Americans for Prosperity, one of the well-funded astroturf groups behind the "tea party" movement. He has always gravitated to the highest bidder.

Tribbett may be self-defined as a democrat, but few Democrats would agree with that characterization.

Posted by: spatrickbe | July 9, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

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