Donor No. 7: Philip Morris - $168,350

By April Duran

Philip Morris gave $168,360 to members of the General Assembly during the last election cycle, making it the seventh-largest donor. But don't expect the firm to tell how it decides to disburse contributions.

"It's our policy to not discuss these issues with students," said Lateisha Larkins, an administrative assistant in external relations at the corporate headquarters in New York. "We don't normally provide this information to anyone."

The firm's Web site doesn't address the process either, she said.

One thing is clear: Philip Morris, which buys tobacco and makes cigarettes in Virginia, likes to spread its money around.

The company gave contributions to 104 of the 140 state legislators: 75 members of the House of Delegates received $103,081, and 29 senators received $65,279.

Although the Legislature is about evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, Philip Morris favored the GOP: 62 Republican lawmakers received $103,460, whereas 41 Democrats received $63,650.

The only Independent legislator, Delegate Lacey E. Putney, got $1,250. He serves as co-chair of the House Privileges and Elections Committee and as a member of Appropriations, Agriculture and Rules committees.

Philip Morris was especially generous to lawmakers who hold or held powerful positions in the General Assembly or who have sponsored tobacco-friendly legislation. Here are the top beneficiaries of the companyís donations:

As a major employer and corporation, Philip Morris has a lot riding on the actions of government officials.

A case in point: The company is facing hundreds of billions of dollars in punitive damages from a recent Florida civil suit. In response, Gov. Jim Gilmore requested legislation to protect Philip Morris from having to pledge more than $25 million of its Virginia assets to post bond if it appeals the verdict.

Gilmore said his goal was to protect the Richmond area's largest private employer from a potential seizure of assets, including its local factory, by the Florida plaintiffs.

The General Assembly passed the bill, which did not mention Philip Morris by name.

The billís sponsors included Delegate Eric I. Cantor, R-Richmond, and Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. Cantor received $1,500 from Philip Morris, and Stolle got $2,628 from the tobacco company.

Many legislators, including Cantor, have said they didn't know the bill was intended to help Philip Morris until Sen. Madison E. Marye, D-Montgomery, revealed the connection. Marye didn't receive any contributions from Philip Morris.