Bacon Bits: Campaign Contributions, Bronze Parachutes, and Bus Subsidies

Herewith some follow-ups on stories we’ve been tracking on Bacon’s Rebellion:

Election fallout for electric utilities: Tuesday’s election wasn’t just a rout for Republicans. The General Assembly will be a more hostile place for Virginia’s electric utilities as well. As Robert Zullo with the Richmond Times-Dispatch points out: “Thirteen candidates who signed a pledge refusing to accept campaign cash from Virginia’s two big utilities won seats in the House of Delegates Tuesday. Seven of those support prohibiting Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power from making political donations.”

Bronze parachute for Virginia Tech provost. Former Virginia Tech Provost Thanassis Rikakis, whose resignation was announced last month, is on paid administrative leave through the end of the year and will continue to receive his $414,000 salary through Aug. 10, 2018. Rikakis, who riled up faculty for reasons that still remain obscure to me, apparently will be allowed to take on a new job as a direct report to President Timothy Sands, earning a mere $275,000 a year as “presidential fellow for academic innovation.” The Roanoke Times reports that he will continue to work on initiatives he had launched as provost, such as “Beyond Boundaries, Destination Areas, the PIBB budget model, the Honors College and the Health Science and Technology campus concepts.”

The bus route to nowhere? The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) is subsidizing a Megabus bus service between Blacksburg and Washington, D.C., with stops in Christiansburg, Lexington, Staunton, Harrisonburg, Front Royal, Washington Dulles International Airport and Arlington. Riders boarding in Blacksburg for the full ride will pay $50. According to a 2013 study, reports the Roanoke Times, the route could generate 15,550 riders per year, generate $578,000 in revenue, and run a $417,000 deficit. Virginia receive about $15 million a year in federal funding for rural transportation projects, and is required to set aside $2.3 million for intercity bus service.

“The Virginia Breeze improves mobility choices for underserved communities by offering an alternative to driving along the congested Interstate 81 and 66 corridors, which need travel options,” DRPT Director Jennifer Mitchell said. “Intercity bus travel gets people out of cars and where they want to go affordably, comfortably and reliably.”

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11 responses to “Bacon Bits: Campaign Contributions, Bronze Parachutes, and Bus Subsidies

  1. Reverse Order:

    Roanoke to DC on Greyhound, departing this afternoon, $80. If you go middle of the week next week, $53. Obviously dynamic pricing (we like that, right?) Didn’t check Blacksburg but I’m sure that could work. I rode the bus from Roanoke to Williamsburg a couple of times during college. Why is the state competing with a private provider? Did they at least consider some kind of subsidy instead?

    Oh, I think we can call that a golden parachute. Perhaps orange and maroon. Here’s a radical idea – what did he used to teach? Why not have him teach? (Unless of course it was organizational leadership.)

    And yes, the implications of the earthquake and tsunami in the House of Delegates are just starting to sink in on several fronts. I suspect some of those newcomers will be suspicious of far more companies that Dominion, companies that backed the incumbents. One of the great ironies is that many of the delegates departing were hardly big Trumpers. (Perhaps the conspiracy thinking is right and Trumpers intentionally voted D to drain the swamp!)

  2. Well the bus is not a whole lot worse than the buses and vans that run in the Fredericksburg area. Yes, they are private sector but the insurance is covered by the state – in effect a subsidy. And the VRE commuter rail is even worse. Riders pay about 1/3 of the actual costs and Amtrak also runs de facto commuter trains that mesh with the VRE schedule.

    And it’s a bit more inexplicable because Amtrak just re-started the Roanoke to Washington Route.

    In terms of the de-facto purge of General Assembly GOP – something has changed in the electorate because some of these guys were solid incumbent who in prior years either ran unopposed or easily bested their challengers.

    The exist polls if taken in some of the turned-over districts might offer some more clues with health care being cited as the number one issue for all voters in Va – but again what we don’t know how that issue breaks down on a district basis … is it primarily an urban/suburban issue or a rural one or what or is it not Trump directly but the perception that the GOP legislators are perceived to be supporters of Trump and trumpism?

    If you’re Dave Brat in the 7th where O’Bannon got beat – what do you think?
    Brat himself on FOX said that the loss was due to these guys not more fully embracing Trump.. and if you believe him – that’s how he is going to run at is next election…

  3. It is a proper exercise in utility regulation to prevent a utility from passing along the costs for both political contributions and lobbying to ratepayers. But SCOTUS has clearly said utilities, even those with a de jure monopoly, have First Amendment rights. Consolidated Edison Co. v. Public Serv. Comm’n, 447 U.S. 530 (1980).

    Barring corporations, labor unions and nonprofits from making political contributions is done in many states. But saying some of these entities cannot make contributions while others may raises serious constitutional issues and is repulsive public policy. The government may not censor speech based on content. The idea of singling out Dominion and Appalachian is simply wrong.

    If we want state campaign finance reform, pass a law restricting contributions to living human beings, who reside in Virginia and prohibit PACs or bundling. Also, make any corporate, labor union or nonprofit effort that involves any expense, including the expense of employees, on the part of a candidate, party or issue a campaign contribution and, hence, illegal.

    • TMT, with the so called rate freeze, which is really an SCC-oversight-and-customer-refund freeze, who knows whether or not ratepayers are picking up the tab for campaign contributions and lobbying? That is routinely reviewed in those SCC cases which are now suspended. In prior cases the SCC has made accounting adjustments related to those activities, putting the cost onto the stockholders rather than ratepayer – can’t do that now. Likewise all that puffy “love your local utility” advertising which somehow always seems to peak at interesting times.

      • Steve – I don’t disagree with the need to repeal the law authorizing the Dominion rate freeze of for the SCC to investigate the Company.

        What I have a problem with is unconstitutional treatment of some speakers because some people don’t like what they have to say. I’m not talking about face to face screaming matches or marches that turn violent. I’m talking about allowing some entities to make political contributions while restricting others. And that starts with those corporations that operate in the media space.

  4. re: First Amendment “rights”. TMT – can you or I have as much impact at influencing others through paid media that Corporations or even political groups have?

    I think when how much money you have can make a difference in how many people you can reach and influence – and propagandize with misinformation and disinformation – that you’ve corrupted the INTENT of the First Amendment.

    Dominion can easily convince others of something other than the truth – even if you know it’s not true- what others hear is not you but Dominion.

    This matters – when it comes to laws that impact you. Their “voice” in the General Assembly easily drowns you out and the results are the proof of this. They evade the rules designed to protect you and get a de facto rate increase by virtue of their money. Their “free speech” is much more than yours or mine or thousands… and yes they do get it from revenues from customers the fix it up to past accounting muster… no big deal. Have you EVER heard of ANY company being held to account for spending customer revenues for lobbying? Nope. There is no way to find it’s totally buried in the finances…

    • Again, Larry, companies actually have to truthfully account for their spending, and since the IRS also disallows lobbying as a business expense lobbying is carefully tracked. Get caught lying to the IRS and see how that works out for you. Then there is the SEC looking over the shoulder of publicly-traded companies that lie in their accounting. THEY know what is spent on those things, even if its not highlighted in the annual reports. Lying on reports to the Federal Elections Commission and even the State Board of Elections is also not a recommended activity.

      As to whether their voice is more powerful than yours, when is the last time you actually met with or even corresponded with your state delegate or state senator?

      There are many problems with the process and I really hate the dark money – it should all be reported. But an activated electorate can move mountains. Happened Tuesday, in case you missed it.

      • Well we could not agree more on “dark money” but you asked when was the last time I talked to a legislator… not that long ago but I can tell you that at that time I gave him no money much less anything comparable to what Dominion gave him.. and in case you didn’t notice – Dominion now is free of the profit restrictions that they used to have.. compliments of all those legislators .. many of who received significant contributions.

        You don’t like Dark Money – I agree but I don’t like Dominion giving the GA money no matter how strict the “accounting” is or is not… many other states flatly do not allow it and for good reason.

        You want some real balance in Virginia – give citizens the right to initiate referenda and you’ll see some real changes.. approved by the majority of voters – if they ever get the opportunity vote on referenda in the first place

        I actually “lobbied” legislators in my district to just put a bill in to allow that just to get a vote and they refused and said it had no chance – a snowball in hell.. and I said .. “fine” – I just want to see the “no” votes but they were not moved…

        I was not advocating a “jungle” type referenda like you see in California. I would put restrictions on it and I would require a high bar for signatures that would insure there was strong support from voters to bring it up in the first place.

        Tuesday , as fine as it was, won’t move the GA an inch.. bet you money that if the GOP holds the majority – it’s going to be business as usual.

    • I communicate regularly with my elected representatives. I’m working with several from both Parties on Tysons Corner, cut-through traffic, building a second span east of the American Legion Bridge issues. I was asked by a state delegate to help write a letter to Maryland elected officials on the latter matter. Which I did.

      I met with Fairfax County Planning Commissioners several times this year. I’ve also met with three Fairfax County Supervisors this year. And testified to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors once each.

      As part of the McLean Citizens Association, I’ve helped draft resolutions and voted on others that seek action from elected officials. I also provided background information to, and answered questions on transportation issues from, both candidates in the recent delegate election in the 34th District.

      Do I have as much impact on public policy as Dominion? Most likely not. Have I influenced public policy? Yes. Can other do so too? I think so, but it takes work and knowledge.

  5. I used to go the GA every January on “Lobby Day” until I grew up and realized it was a dog and pony show for the gullible and easily diverted.

    Since that time – I learned that real legislation pretty much gets started in September.. and by the time January rolls around the ducks are in a row for how the GA “works” and bills that are doomed – are just zombies… waiting for that subcommittee – unrecorded vote… etc…

    every now and then something gets the full sunshine treatment but as Steve will surely confirm.. a LOT of the stuff in Richmond happens in dark spaces out of sight of the average schmuck.

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