Barbara Favola Makes Disingenuous Statements about Dominion Funding

A clarification has been added to the end of this article.

Setup. Barbara Favola is the Democratic State Senator from Virginia’s 31st district.  That district is centered in Arlington but includes areas of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties as well.  Favola is a politician-for-life having served on the Arlington County Board from 1997 through 2012 and in the Virginia State Senate since then.  She is seeking to extend her 22 consecutive years in politics to 26 in the upcoming General Assembly election.  However, Sen Favola’s well laid plans hit a snag.  She will face a challenger named Nicole Merlene in the June 11 Democratic primary.  Ms. Merlene has astutely called Sen Favola’s ethics and independence into question based on Favola’s non-legislative position as the head of a lobbying organization representing clients in Richmond.  An article in ggwash summarized a debate between Favola and Merlene:

“In her opening statement, Merlene referred to a December 2016 proposal to build a 325-foot tall tower on Virginia Department of Transportation land in Rosslyn. Favola, the sitting state senator for the district, was an advisor for the project.

Merlene said this type of behavior was pervasive, citing her opponent’s relationship with Marymount University and Virginia Hospital Center, which are both clients of a lobbying organization that Favola leads when she is not working in Richmond.“This is an issue where our representative was using public office for private benefit,” she said.”

Favola responded by employing what has become known as “the Saslaw – Norment defense” which holds that no amount of money from any source could ever be corrupting based on the genetic honesty of long time Virginia politicians.The “D” word. Challenger Nicole Merlene brought the issue of political contributions from Dominion into the contest.  She has pledged to foreswear campaign contributions from Dominion.  This is another politically astute move in Northern Virginia where voters are seeing freedom from the Virginia Axis of Evil – Dominion, Altria and Omega Protein – as positives for candidates.  Favola is tainted by Dominion money in the eyes of many voters.

The empire strikes back.  Favola has sought to distance herself from Dominion.  She has expanded the “Saslaw – Norment defense” with the “too little to matter” corollary …

“In the eight years I’ve been in the Senate, I’ve raised $1.4 million. Dominion’s given me about 9,500 or 9,700. I’ll do the math for you. It’s slightly more than half of one percent. But, you know, it wouldn’t matter how much it was. I’ve never looked at my donor sheet when I make a vote.”

Favola’s response is dishonest, evasive and condescending.  It is dishonest in that she has taken far more in Dominion money than $9,500 or $9,700 in direct contributions from Dominion.  She has taken money from funds partly supported by Dominion and then repackaged under different names.  More on that later.  It is evasive in that she makes a silly statement about looking at donor sheets while voting rather than citing specific votes she has made contrary to Dominion’s preferences or interests.  It is condescending in that she assumes her beleaguered constituents won’t be able to see through her flimsy smokescreen.

Follow the money.  A quick look at Favola’s vpap,org statistics from 2011 through 2019 shows where she’s getting her money … sort of.  There’s $10,500 directly from Dominion but lots of other contributions from other entities, PACs and Democratic politicians as well.

But where do these groups and people get their money?  Her largest contributor over the time in question is “the Democratic Party of Virginia”.  Over the years in question Dominion Energy has donated $261,081 to the Democratic Party of Virginia.  Favola’s third largest donor was “Whipple for Senate – Mary”.  This donor received contributions from Dominion.  Her fifth largest donor was the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus.  Dominion was a donor to this group too.  Next up on Favola’s donor list – Howell for Senate – Janet.  Yep, Howell took money from Dominion. Favola’s ninth biggest donor … the infamous Saslaw for Senate – Richard.  Dominion was the largest contributor to Saslaw’s campaigns between 2011 and 2019.  Not only did Saslaw partly use Dominion money to directly fund Favola’s campaigns he also donated $113,403 to the Democratic Party of Virginia which, in turn, donated money to Favola.  In this case Saslaw took money from Dominion, used some of it to fund a bundle and then the bundle contributed to Favola.  And so it goes in the Kleptocracy of Virginia.  Dominion insinuates itself into every nook and cranny of Virginia state politics.  Then the money is packaged, re-packaged, legally laundered and distributed in a process that would make the Gambino family proud.  At the end of all this politicians like Barbara Favola make knowingly absurd comments about how little of her campaign money comes from Dominion.

Favola’s contention that she only received one half of one percent of her campaign funds from Dominion is disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst.

The VPAP mirage. Virginia is one of only four US states with no limits on campaign contributions.  Some pundits will claim that this is acceptable since VPAP (the Virginia Public Access Project) provides all the transparency needed to track who is contributing to whom.  This is drivel.  VPAP fails to track the donated money in a meaningful way and opens the door to false claims like the one made by Barbara Favola.  Until VPAP starts allocating the origins of the money from sources like Dominion through the bundles like the Democratic Party of Virginia to ultimate recipients like Barbara Favola it provides only a false sense of transparency.  Yet VPAP seems to have little interest in this level of useful insight.  Instead, it seems more focused on being a left-leaning news aggregator with its slanted selection of articles (most behind paywalls) in its VaNews section.

Clarification. The donations Sen Favola accepted from the Democratic Party of Virginia ($49,549) exactly equal the donations made by the Favola campaign to the Democratic Party of Virginia.  This is because the Democratic Party of Virginia (fund), in this case, operates as a clearing house for political operations such as mailings.  By aggregating the demand for such shared services the fund is able to provide those services on a less expensive basis than the individual politicians could achieve on their own.  Favola’s donations from this fund were for in-kind services, not cash.  However, Dominion has made contributions to this fund ($261,081 over the years in question).  It is hard to understand why Dominion would contribute to an operational clearinghouse.  If the Democratic Party of Virginia fund has multiple functions and the funds are well segregated then Favola’s activities may not have included Dominion money.  However, if the Dominion money is used to subsidize the clearinghouse then any use of the clearinghouse would benefit from Dominion.  Either way, it would be far more transparent for the Democratic Party of Virginia to operate a clearinghouse as a standalone entity without commingling funds or accepting outside donations for clearinghouse operations.

— Don Rippert

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22 responses to “Barbara Favola Makes Disingenuous Statements about Dominion Funding

  1. Favola is way too liberal for me. But she has been actively involved in McLean transportation issues since she has been Senator. She’s been pushing to get an expansion of the Potomac River crossing at Cabin John and to get VDOT to coordinate its expansion of the Express Lanes to the River with MDOT. She’s also been working on ways to keep Maryland interstate traffic out of narrow neighborhood streets before pedestrians are killed and to help people get out of their neighborhoods. While Favola is notoriously late, she rarely misses a transportation meeting locally.

    Nicole Merlene has never shown at one of these meetings. There’s a meeting on May 20. I wonder if she will show. And not having a car in a district that also includes Loudoun County, Great Falls and McLean makes me wonder whether how responsive a Senator Merlene would be to traffic concerns faced by District residents.

    I think that, despite some heartburn on campaign funding issues, Favola’s work on transportation issues will result in her outpolling Merlene in Fairfax County.

    • Favola will probably win. The off year elections, unlimited campaign contributions, etc all favor the incumbent – even in primaries. Favola may have been “pushing for” a lot of useful things but where are they? Expanding a bridge sounds like it will take forever. Expanding the Express lanes may have more immediate impact but VDOT could toll the on and off ramps from the Cabin John Bridge to Rt 193 right now and economically force traffic back onto the Beltway where it belongs. Where is that idea?

      The bigger issue is Favola’s conflicts of interest and deceptive comments. How can you advise a company trying to put up a 325 foot tower on state land in your district while being a state senator? C’mon. How can she claim she’s not beholden to Dominion when she’s smack dab in the middle of the Howell / Saslaw / Favola Dominion Industrial Complex?

      A lot of the problems we have in Northern Virginia are due to the ridiculous influence special interests have in the state government. Everybody talks about Dominion … and for good reason. However, the largest industry donor to state politicians is the real estate / construction industry. A cool $150m spent since 1996. $8.2m in 2018 – 2019 and you know 2019 is just getting started.

      Barbara Favola may pay attention to the short term but she is part of the long term problem. Using her office for personal gain, lining her coffers with ridiculous amounts of money from special interests.

      The biggest problem in Virginia by far is money in politics. Cure that disease and all the other problems can be addressed. Fail to sure that disease and all the posturing by the lifelong politicians won’t amount to a damn thing.

      Favola needs to go. Merlene can lean about local transportation a lot faster than Favola can go through “payola rehab” and cure her addiction to special interest money.

  2. I understand the issue about bundling, or laundering, Dominion dollars. But, because money is fungible, it would seem that any attempt by VPAP to allocate those donations to ultimate third-party recipients would be almost entirely arbitrary. Frankly, I don’t blame VPAP for staying away from that hornet’s nest.

    I am more interested in the lobbying organization with which Favola is associated. If those clients have issues before the GA, a conflict of interest certainly is possible. Even if she did not formally vote on any proposals, her presence would be influential. Although it certainly presents no more of a conflict of interest than a Senator lobbying for a judgeship for his sister, or lawyers voting on legislation dealing with subjects on which they regularly represent clients before state agencies, which is not uncommon, all these situations smell somewhat.

    • It’s been 40 years since I studied accounting but I recall the Retail LIFO and Retail FIFO methods of allocating costs to products in inventory as the products were sold. VPAP could do the same kind of thing. If 10% of the money coming into an account in a given year were from Dominion then 10% of all disbursements from that account have “Dominion money”. Any funds left in the account are 10% Dominion supplied as of that end date. That’s the starting position for next year.

      Virginia’s state government is a crooked as a country road. Of course practicing lawyers who are legislators should have to recuse themselves from voting for the judges who will potentially decide their cases. Are you kidding me? Of course you shouldn’t be able to simultaneously be a politicians and a lobbyist for interests in the legislature where you are a representative. Are you kidding me? Of course a state regulated monopoly shouldn’t be able to make any political contributions at all to the legislature or other representatives in state government. Are you kidding me? Of course you shouldn’t be able to spend campaign contributions on personal items like gym memberships. Are you kidding me?

      If our politicians were honest and concerned with keeping the people’s faith in government they wouldn’t need rules to avoid conflicts of interest. But too many of them aren’t honest and don’t care about keeping the people’s faith in government. They see their elections are a means to line their pockets through obvious conflicts of interest. Virginia’s almost non-existent ethics rules attract too many disreputable individuals into our political system.

  3. Favola is one of several legislators who are lobbyists in their other jobs. And of course the lawyers in the GA often represent clients in state agency matters and certainly state courts. Fatal flaw? Not necessarily, but something the voters should dig into deeply. No question this is yet another area where disclosure is pathetic and MSM reporting is thin.

    Pretty good pounding of Saslaw on Blue Virginia today, with links to several interesting video clips. Another race worth watching..
    https://bluevirginia.us/2019/05/dick-saslaws-dirty-energy-deception

    • “And of course the lawyers in the GA often represent clients in state agency matters and certainly state courts. Fatal flaw?”

      Yes, a fatal flaw. Legislators who are practicing attorneys should recuse themselves from voting for judges. Period. Legislators should either be legislators or lobbyists, not both.

      Virginia’s state government is deeply dishonest and corrupt.

      As for Saslaw … Blue Virginia is right. I have always wondered why candidates opposing Democratic Senators like Janet Howell and Barbara Favola don’t continuously paint them as stooges of Saslaw. Saslaw may have a lot of loyalty (for some reason) in his district but he is generally reviled elsewhere in Northern Virginia. Republican congressmen are always pinned to Trump’s tail. Seems like Democratic state legislators ought to get pinned to Saslaw’s tail (and Northam, Herring and Fairfax’s tails). Of course, that would require the same RPV who couldn’t be bothered to look at Northam’s yearbook page before the last gubernatorial election to get something right.

  4. I had asked VPAP a few years back about the idea that the PACs (on both sides) are effectively laundering donations so that the original donor is masked.

    I too believe that money is “fungible” but right now we have a deluge of money coming from donors into PACs or PAC-like entities and they in-turn dole out the money to whoever the donor intended to receive it.

    That’s a significant flaw in the concept in VPAP itself. It’s not something they can change but anyone who thinks VPAP is the bible of money in politics transparency has been fooled… no wonder all these guys playing in that money pile also “support” VPAP!

    I don’t know much about Favola but I do wonder if she is just doing what the others do or is she really outside the “norm” – not excusing it – but if the “norm” allows it – then just going after one person doing it and treating it as if that person is way worse than the others…well that feels like “targeting”…

    • Favola is my state senator so I pay closer attention to her than some others. She is being challenged by a young woman who seems to understand the debilitating aspects of unlimited money in politics. That’s newsworthy to me. The young woman (also a Democrat) is willing to call out Favola for her conflicts of interest. That’s newsworthy to me.

      As you’ll see over the months running up to this Fall’s election … I see the battle for the soul of Virginia as more of a battle between young and old, corrupt and honest, Byrd machine hangover insiders and energetic outsiders than a battle between Republicans and Democrats or conservatives vs liberals.

      Nicole Merlene is emblematic of the new political attitude in Virginia. Barbara Favola is a loud voice for the old.

      There are only four words that will save Virginia from its miserable past …. “Throw the bums out”.

      I am targeting General Assembly incumbents, especially those who enrich themselves with shady dealings.

      I am also targeting politicians who make intentionally misleading statements.

      Keep watching. I’m only getting started. Lots of targets left.

  5. If a donor gives to a PAC and gives explicit instructions, this is for XYZ, then that is supposed to be reported as a designated gift. That was the law, anyway. So people just give and say – use it where you think best. I’m not sure how VPAP deals with that, and do not fault it for the problem.

    One possibility – just assume every dollar source gave to every donor. Because trust me, at some point in the conversation it will come up. “Hey, you know we gave $50K to that PAC that supported you….” So if you take money from any joint committee supported by Dominion – you took money from Dominion….

    Speaking of that game, its time for the annual event where it is played to the hilt. In the next few weeks both parties will be hosting lobbyists at The Homestead. You give a lump sum check and mix and mingle with the whole caucus so they KNOW you were a donor one step removed….wink wink nudge nudge.

    • There can be no doubt that donors to PACs like Dominion expect something in return for those donations. There can also be no doubt that when Dominion donates a ton of money to politicians in safe seats like Dick Saslaw they know that money will be repackaged to other candidates in less safe seats. They also know that Saslaw, as minority leader of the Virginia Senate, can pout lots of pressure on his fellow Democratic senators to vote the way he wants. Make no mistake, Barbara Favola fully understands all this … which makes her claims of limited Dominion influence all the more ridiculous.

  6. DJR, you say, “Dominion insinuates itself into every nook and cranny of Virginia state politics. Then the money is packaged, re-packaged, legally laundered and distributed in a process that would make the Gambino family proud.” Hear, hear! That is the message you broadcast here. But more: “Virginia is one of only four US states with no limits on campaign contributions.” That’s the second message. Again, hear, hear! But you continue with a third message: “VPAP fails to track the donated money in a meaningful way and opens the door to false claims like the one made by Barbara Favola. Until VPAP starts allocating the origins of the money from sources like Dominion through the bundles like the Democratic Party of Virginia to ultimate recipients like Barbara Favola it provides only a false sense of transparency.” I agree with Dick H-S. on this one: any attempt to allocate through intermediaries would be almost entirely arbitrary. Neither Fifo nor Lifo resolve that dilemma. So — what about Steve’e suggestion — is the existing law simply not being enforced, or is this something VPAP could address better, or is there no alternative under existing law to “wink wink nudge nudge” at Virginia Hot Springs?

    • I don’t see the arbitrariness of allocating donations in PAC streams. Here’s a simplified example:

      1. Don, Acbar and Larry are all members of the General Assembly.
      2. All three take money directly from Dominion.
      3. In the last year …
      3.1 Don took $100 from Dominion out of $1,000 raised
      3.2 Larry took $50 from Dominion out of $2,000 raised
      3.3 Acbar took $200 from Dominion out of $500 raised
      4. All three support the candidacy of fire bomb throwing libertarian Jim.
      5. The three the sole contributors to the Rebellion Fund.
      6. Also in the last year …
      6.1 Don donated $300 to the Rebellion Fund
      6.2 Larry donated $500 to the Rebellion Fund
      6.3 Acbar donated $50 to the Rebellion Fund

      So …

      1. 10% of any donations to any person, place or thing from Don are “Dominion money”, 2.5% for Larry and 40% from Acbar
      2. The $550 donated to the Rebellion Fund by the three has …
      ($300 * 10%) + ($500 * 2.5%) + ($50 * 40%) worth of Dominion money. That’s $62.50.
      3. The Rebellion Fund donates $275 to the campaign of Jim the bomb thrower. That donation includes $31.25 of Dominion money.

      Tedious? Yes. Intellectually challenging? No. Fortunately, computer software is very good at tedious tasks that are not too intellectually challenging.

      VPAP could do this if they wanted to do this.

  7. Again, I don’t know what VPAP could do differently. DJ makes his case that Favola is full of it using VPAP’s data, it is all there. Yes, the system is designed – by the foxes guarding the henhouse – to obscure. I’m disappointed that VPAP is not an advocate for change, but it isn’t going to be with that board and that funding source.

    If you consider Dominion money tainted, then any and all sources taking it are equally corrupted.

    The solution, which all just dance around, is a set of strictly enforced limits and perhaps state adoption of the federal funding standards, prohibiting direct corporate contributions. Money corrupts – limiting the money can limit the level of corruption. In one of those videos I linked, Saslaw claims every Dominion dollar he’s gotten has come through a true employee PAC. That is a claim that some reporter (don’t hold your breath) needs to check, because at the STATE level there is no such limitation. I bet its 100 percent corporate dollars…..

    • We were cross-posting. No DJ, I can’t see much value in it being done that way, and the resulting morass of data would be harder to follow and understand. I think that is a case that needs to come out in the campaigns or their coverage. You are asking VPAP to do the job of reporters or oppo researchers, and I just look to VPAP for the basic data. I’ll stand by my preferred approach – hard and fast and moderate limits, and perhaps a ban on straight corporate dollars.

    • Whatever happened to Chap Petersen’s (D-Fairfax) plan to reintroduce his failed 2017 Dominion contribution ban bill in 2018?

      http://www.fauquiernow.com/index.php/fauquier_news/article/fauquier-bill-to-limit-dominions-political-contributions-dies-2017

      It seems Nicole Merlene is missing two important political opportunities:

      1. Promise to introduce similar legislation if elected.
      2. Put Favola on the record to do the same if re-elected.

      It’s high time to start pinning the Dominion tail on the individual General Assembly donkeys.

    • re: ” I’m disappointed that VPAP is not an advocate for change, but it isn’t going to be with that board and that funding source.”

      VPAP … COULD … overtly point this problem out and say they want to address it – make legislative suggestions and highlight those who support it. They could also show the money come in dates and the money going out dates… for the PACs…

      No, they cannot fix it themselves but they can do a lot more about it that they are – including telling folks about it and saying that it is a problem.

      I’m afraid they might be co-opted here… by those who like the idea that VPAP is “assuring” folks that there is some level of “transparency” (but not too much).

      • In fairness, VPAP has to decide whether it is a non-profit reporting entity or an advocacy group. I was fine with VPAP as a non-profit reporting entity until they started aggregating news stories on their VaNews tab. As Google, Facebook and other news aggregators have found, once you start choosing what stories to post you are subject to claims of bias. VPAP’s Va News leans pretty heavily on Virginia Mercury articles. Since they are free I can understand the allure. However, in my opinion, Virginia Mercury is clearly left leaning. So, does VPAP search for free articles from right leaning outlets to post? Not that I see. Once you start aggregating select news stories you start down a slippery slope. Why did you pick the stories you picked?

        Here are three things VPAP could easily do to enhance their perception for being fair …

        1. Publish the aggregation of the political donation from their Board of Directors and Leadership Council by party (and possibly other important sub-classifications). Are they unbiased or, at least, evenly split?

        2. Seek and find free articles written by right leaning Virginia bloggers and news outlets and post them on VaNews. Or, discontinue VaNews. Personally – I am not a trained journalist in any way and I only write commentary labeled clearly as such. If given the chance I would deny a request from VPAP to publish anything I wrote on their site. I have denied similar requests from Virginia newspapers and other Virginia blogs in the past. However, BaconsRebellion has former professional journalists, ex state employees, etc whose articles should be considered for publication on VaNews.

        3. Open the data up. Whether you like Cranky’s (from Cranky’s Blog) editorial opinions or not … he sure slices and dices the data. Imagine what he might find if he were given easy access to the raw data VPAP uses for their website. Of course, outlets like Blue Virginia would have access too so making the raw data available would be non-partisan.

  8. I’ll still take action on transportation over cleaning up the state. Do you know what it’s like to see chains of 20 cars or more (most with Maryland plates) sitting in neighborhood streets trying to get on the Beltway at G’town Pike virtually every day? Did you ever see two dump trucks tearing down a 30-foot wide street with parking on both sides going at least 50 miles per hour.

    Somehow I suspect Merlene would tell us to take a bus or bike. This time, I’m with the Devil I know and the Devil who I know is working on traffic relief for McLean.

    And yes, the entrance ramp to the Inner Loop at the Pike should be tolled. Many of us are working on that one too.

    • There ARE a wide variety of traffic calming measures that are available right now today – that can very effectively discourage cut-through traffic. If folks REALLY want to do something about it – it boils down to putting pressure on their local officials :

      here’s an example. that a raised hump and if you do that and narrow the road – most cut-through folks come once and then not again:

      • Larry, many of the local roads used as cut-through routes in McLean have speed humps. More are being studied. But speed humps and even no-left/right turn signs are fixed solutions to a dynamic problem. Drivers use apps like Waze to find ways to avoid driving on the Beltway from Tysons to Maryland. Slow down one route, traffic moves elsewhere.

        There have been a number of public meetings in McLean to discuss proposed solutions, including a four-month trial of shutting the G’town Pike northbound ramp to the Inner Loop during afternoon and evening rush periods (McLean residents wanting to go to Maryland shot that down). There still is a push for tolling that ramp.

        The root cause of the problem is the lack of capacity on the Maryland Inner Loop, including the American Legion Bridge. Only expanding capacity on those facilities, with Express or Toll Lanes, which can carry unimpeded express bus service, will fix the basic problem. I know where Favola stands on this problem. Why would I want to see a state senator who doesn’t even own a car and likely thinks we can bike our way out of traffic hell?

        Don, yes, a lot of the problem comes from the Tysons landowners giving buckets of money to elected officials and wannabes, while promising the Silver Line, mixed use and sidewalks and bike trails will fix traffic. Many of us have been battling on those issues for almost 15 years. That fight will go on well after most of us are dead. But with the Maryland Traffic Relief Plan and the matching VDOT piece, we can actually seem some improvement on the horizon. Keep in mind that MDOT has not only put the project into the Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP) but also into the five-year Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).

        While I’d rather have a GOP senator any day, my second choice is Favola. Fix transportation now.

    • I understand your points about short term remedies. I have been stuck among those Marylanders trying to get through McLean. However, these problems were caused by money in politics and they are exacerbated by opaque taxing and funding.

      The fact that the real estate & construction industry is, by far, the biggest contributor to state legislators ought to tell you something. They want laws that encourage construction without too much concern about paying for the related transportation costs of that construction. The General Assembly’s meddling in local proffers is an example of repayment for those contributions. Until the unlimited money is taken out of state politics the voter – taxpayers will be paying the price for Virginia’s special interests. And the biggest special interest of them all is real estate & construction. Merlene wants to fix this problem, Favola is part of the problem. Beyond that, Favola has been part of the Arlington Board and State Senate for 22 years and those long lines of cars are still there. Where’s the beef?

      On the opaque taxing and spending side … where is Favola in demanding full disclosure of taxes by region / municipality vs state and local spending by region / municipality? Has Northern Virginia gotten its fair share of transportation funding (relative to transportation taxes taken) over the past 50 years? Want to bet? Why is there a four lane free beltway running around 1.5m people in Richmond and only four free lanes running around 5.6m people in Metropolitan Washington? In large part because the General Assembly politicians we elect from Northern Virginia are only too happy to let their constituents get screwed. At the least Favola could demand a regular accounting of taxes raised and monies spent for the seven regions (or 130+ localities) in Virginia. Why should she get a third term when she has totally ignored this matter for her first two terms?

  9. THANK YOU JIM!

    VPAP fails to track the donated money in a meaningful way and opens the door to false claims like the one made by Barbara Favola. Until VPAP starts allocating the origins of the money from sources like Dominion through the bundles like the Democratic Party of Virginia to ultimate recipients like Barbara Favola it provides only a false sense of transparency. Yet VPAP seems to have little interest in this level of useful insight.

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