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Why do people give money to candidates for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors? According to George Mason University communications professor Stephen Farnsworth, it's a simple equation.
"People give money in politics to get what they want, and if they weren't getting what they want, they wouldn't keep giving money," he says.
The county's supervisors disagree, saying that people contribute to campaigns because they agree with their values. Take developer Theodore Georgelas, who frequently has business before the county board. In the last decade, he's contributed more than $95,000 to a variety of political action committees and candidates. One of those is Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, who received $1,000 from Georgelas.
"Ted Georgelas, as well as other people in the business community, want a strong business environment," says Cook. "That's something I ran on."
In the last four years, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross has received $12,000 from an entity known as 8500 CDC LP, an organization tied to developer Daniel Clemente. Gross says he was buying good government.
"I worked with Mr. Clemente and his organization on some developments of new housing in the Skyline area of Bailey's Crossroads, a wonderful new revitalization," says Gross.
Her Republican challenger, David Feld, took out a loan to fund his campaign. He says Clemente and other developers are buying influence. "I believe it's unethical to take contributions from anybody that you're doing business with," Feld says.
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay would like to see public financing for campaigns and limits to donations, he says. But unless there's some reform in how money is raised, he adds, candidates would be foolish not to raise significant amounts of money.
Providence District Supervisor Lynda Smyth admits to a close relationship with one donor. "The biggest contributor to my campaign was my husband," Smyth says. But the only outcome he's expecting, she says, is for her to take him out to dinner.
Incumbent supervisors have raised $2 million thus far this election cycle.