Category Archives: Money in politics

House of Delegates Election Tally: $66.4 Million

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

The final money tally is in, and it looks like more money was spent on House of Delegates elections in 2019 than any election in Virginia history. That was a nearly 42% increase over 2017, which itself was a record, according to data published by the Virginia Public Access Project. Democrats raised $38.2 million in the current election cycle, and Republicans raised $28.6.

Clearly, more money is better than less money when you’re running an election campaign. But having more money is no guarantee of victory. Del. Tim Hugo, D-Centreville, led the pack with $2.1 million, but he lost the election in a blue tide that swept over Northern Virginia.

Judging from anecdotal evidence, I suspect that a lot of the money was wasted. There is only so much spending that a media market can productively absorb. In my senatorial district, a showdown between Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, and Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, In the final days, we were deluged with direct mail pieces. I read the first few, but after a while, the mailers went straight into the trash.

A logical question to ask: Is campaign spending out of control? Should we restrict campaign donations? Continue reading

Northam Comes to the Aid of Menhaden (But is Chap Petersen Paying Attention?)

By Don Rippert

Fish tale. Omega Protein, a Canadian owned company, has willfully exceeded its menhaden catch limit in the Chesapeake Bay. You can read the details here. The catch limit is controversial since menhaden is the only marine fish regulated directly by the Virginia General Assembly. All other saltwater fish in Virginia are regulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Every other Atlantic state lets their state fishery regulator and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) set rules for menhaden in their waters. The US Congress chartered ASMFC in 1942. So, ASMFC sets catch limits for Virginia waters – one for the Atlantic and another for the Chesapeake Bay. In Virginia those limits are then incorporated into proposed legislation for the General Assembly. The most recent AMFC-set limits were put into a bill that was never voted on by the General Assembly. This left Omega Protein with two catch limits – the limit last passed by the General Assembly (based on ASMFC guidance) and the most current lower ASMFC limit. Once Omega Protein admitted it had exceeded the most current ASMFC limit Virginia was reported to the US Department of Commerce as being “out of compliance.” Last week Gov Ralph Northam sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce requesting the feds to put a moratorium on menhaden fishing in the Virginia waters of the Chesapeake Bay. It seems that Northam is sending the General Assembly a message — clean up your act or I’ll ask the Feds to clean it up for you. But will the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly listen to Northam or Omega Protein?

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Virginia Democrats’ Quid Pro Quo Squabble

Michael Bills

by James A. Bacon

More blue on blue: Hedge-fund manager Michael Bills, the money meister behind Clean Virginia, worked behind the scenes to oppose the elevation of Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax Station, to Speaker of the House. So alleged Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, in an interview on the John Fredericks radio show last week.

“I had heard that they or they representatives had made phone calls to get people to vote against Eileen,” Saslaw said. “You know, quite frankly, you’re getting awfully close to that quid pro quo line when you’re doing stuff like that. I don’t take, nor does our caucus… we don’t take any contributions that come with any conditions. To me, you’re getting into dangerous territory when you accept a deal like that.”

Richard Saslaw

Bills and wife Sonjia Smith spent nearly $2 million in donations that came from them personally or funneled through Clean Virginia to candidates who pledged not to take contributions from Dominion Energy.

The story, if true, suggests that a schism exists between the establishment wing of Virginia’s Democratic Party and the militant environmentalist wing of the party. Militant environmentalists deem Dominion Energy to be a fount of political corruption and, due to the utility’s continued advocacy of natural gas, an impediment to the goal of achieving a 100% renewable electric grid. However, as long as Dominion can patch together a coalition of Republican and pragmatic Democratic lawmakers, it will likely continue to prevail in the General Assembly. Continue reading

What Will Clean Virginia Be Asking For?

By Steve Haner

“Do you actively support efforts to reduce corruption in government?”   

Of course, any candidate presented with that question will reply yes. What do you expect?  “No, I’m quite passive about corruption in government. Live and let live.”

That was one of the softball questions on the Clean Virginia candidate survey form, which will be taking on added significance given the number of Clean Virginia-funded and endorsed candidates who were successful  Tuesday. You can read the full questionnaire here, and potential 2021 candidates are advised to print it out and start a file on coming roll call votes.  Continue reading

Wealthy Greenies Dump Millions into Virginia Elections

Virginia after the climate apocalypse… or after a green energy policy?

by Hans Bader

You may not be following Virginia’s legislative elections, which will occur on November 5. But liberal billionaires across the country are. They are spending millions to help progressives take control of the Virginia legislature.

The Washington Post reports that heaps of money are flowing into Virginia political campaigns ahead of the election.

As John Massoud notes, Charlottesville hedge-fund manager Michael Bills and his wife Sonjia Smith have injected $3 million in donations to Democratic candidates. He says this is to elect a legislature that enacts California-style alternative-energy rules. Such rules enrich investors in alternative-energy schemes by requiring utilities (and their customers) to pay for them. Massoud argues that such schemes are not “able to power a modern day economy. If allowed to have their way, we will soon be having the same blackouts that California is having.” PBS reports that 1.5 million people lost power in the latest round of California blackouts.

A group called Beyond Carbon, funded by a liberal out-of-state billionaire, is spending $335,000 this week alone on TV ads to defeat a single Republican member of the House of Delegates, Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. On first glance, Stolle may seem like an odd choice as a target, given that he backed legislation to mitigate the effects of climate change, making him a relative moderate in the state legislature. Continue reading

The Radioactive Donors In 2019? Healthcare

Money (And Hypocrisy) In Politics

By Steve Haner

The following is one of my “revise and extend” follow-up posts, this one adding detail to an exploration of the raging attacks on Republican efforts to offer alternative health insurance plans.  You can read the original post on the Jefferson Policy Journal.    

Not many months ago, it was a safe bet that by late October the campaign attack ads would focus on utility contributions. There is still time for that to appear. Dominion Energy clearly expected that, as evidenced by a full page, very defensive advertisement in Wednesday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Then there is its most cloying television ad yet.

You’ve seen it, of course – the lovely young lady whose Daddy is a deployed Dominion employee. Instead of wearing a U.S. Army or Blue Star cap, she sleeps and poses for school pictures in his Dominion Energy hat. Now, how could a company engendering that kind of love and loyalty be misbehaving?

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The Role of Union Money in the 2019 Elections

Labor unions contributing more than $100,000. Source: Virginia Public Access Project

by James A. Bacon

Organized labor may not be the biggest source of campaign contributions in Virginia, but it is one of the most consistently reliable supporters of Democratic candidates. Virginia Public Access Project data shows that labor unions have contributed $4.8 million in the current electoral cycle, favoring Democrats over Republicans by a 200-to-1 margin (not accounting for “other” contributions, which could make the ratio even more lopsided).

What does organized labor think it’s getting from Democratic Party candidates? Primarily, the unions want to elect Democrats who will support Project Labor Agreements requiring unionized labor in big state construction contracts. Repeal of Right to Work might be a distant secondary factor, but I don’t discern any evidence from these numbers that Big Labor has ginned up a campaign to reverse the long-standing law…. not yet. Continue reading

Is Massive Dem Fund Raising Lead a One-Off or Sign of Fundamental Change?

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

by James A. Bacon

The latest Virginia Public Access Project data for the 2019 electoral cycle shows a surge in campaign donations to Democratic Party candidates. The gap is dramatic — and unprecedented in recent Virginia politics. The big question: Are we seeing a fundamental realignment of politics parties and voting blocs in Virginia, or is this an aberration arising from an anti-Trump backlash that will recede when Trump retires (or is expelled from office)?

There is a growing body of thought that “Trumpism” will survive Trump, not because people are enamored with the president’s grating personality but because the underlying social/cultural conflicts that gave rise to Trump will endure. In this interpretation, to which I subscribe, Trumpism is a manifestation of the new class divide.

Democrats predominate among high-income Virginians who derive their wealth from the “new” economy that is supplanting the “old” money associated with more conservative political and cultural views. Democrats also predominate among the educated elite that increasingly dominates the state’s cultural institutions — media, universities, schools, museums, and the arts. This new intelligentsia champions the poor and oppressed in its rhetoric (although the consequences of elite-driven policies, as I have repeatedly shown, is often destructive to the poor). The new elite blames the greatest ills of society (racism, sexism, homophobia) on the benighted blue-collar and middle classes. Working- and middle-class Americans with traditional values react negatively and feel alienated. Not surprisingly, this demographic constitute Trump’s most loyal supporters Continue reading

Virginia as New Jersey: Dem Support Grows to Repeal Right-to-Work

Right-to-work states.

by James A. Bacon

Democrats may or may not be poised to take control of the Virginia General Assembly. Steve Haner, who knows infinitely more about Virginia politics than I do, thinks Republicans have a shot at retaining their majorities. But from my untutored perspective, all signs point to a big Democratic win this fall. A return of state governance to the Democrats has very different implications today than it would have, say, 20 years ago. This is not the party of Jerry Baliles, Doug Wilder or even Mark Warner (back when he governed the state as a moderate). The Dems have moved far to the left and, as I opined recently, issues that were never issues before now are.

A case in point: A Virginia Chamber of Commerce survey of state lawmakers has found that a majority of Democratic lawmakers say they oppose the state’s right-to-work law.

Reports VPM:

Dozens of Democratic candidates skipped the question or did not respond to the Chamber’s annual survey. But a majority answered, and all but three candidates in the House of Delegates and four in the Senate said they did not support the law. Most of the candidates who made that pick were either incumbents in safe Democratic districts or challengers with no legislative record. Continue reading

More in the Nefarious Hunt for DARK MONEY!

By Peter Galuszka

Sound the klaxon horn at Bacon’s Rebellion! More DARK MONEY is coming to pollute the state’s glorious electoral process.

Emily’s List, a PAC supporting female Democratic candidates, has announced that it is planning on donating an extra $1.5 million to help flip the GOP-controlled Virginia General Assembly.

Along with another $600,000 Emily’s List gift made jointly with Priorities USA, the money is the largest single investment the PAC has ever made in an individual state’s legislative elections, according to WTOP Radio of Washington.

Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock said the races are underfunded and the funds should help 39 women running in Virginia’s off-year elections flip the General Assembly.

That’s not all. According to The Washington Post, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D. 2nd) has created a committee to raise $228,000 to match the same amount raised by Republicans to fight her reelection next year. The reason for the GOP largesse? Luria, along with U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th), had the unmitigated gall to sign a letter in the Post of several Members of Congress with defense or intelligence calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump (not a bad idea in my book). Luria is a retired Navy commander and Spanberger was a covert officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.  Continue reading

Lobbying Entertainment Data Still Deceptive

“Reported” entertainment events for the 2018-2019 cycle, a fraction of the actual number due to loopholes in Virginia law. Click for larger view.

By Steve Haner

‘Our friends at the Virginia Public Access Project are a bit later this year with their data and visuals on Virginia’s embarrassingly weak and intentionally vague lobbyist entertainment reporting.  It is still nothing but a sham, exactly how the legislators and lobbyists want it.

The 2018 VPAP coverage was subject of a May 2018 Bacon’s Rebellion report, but this time we are five weeks away from tight elections in both bodies.  Voters are not short of things to get outraged about, but we can add this to the list.

The basic 2019 report is little changed from VPAP’s 2018 data.   Last year 109 of the 140 legislators admitted accepting at least one entertainment event, and this year it appears 111 did.  The number who report accepting five or more has dropped.  The key word in that sentence is “reporting”.

UPDATE:  VPAP has now added this year’s graphic on the high number of lobbyist disclosures that simply ignore the directive to be specific about the “matters” that get their attention.  A few well placed $100 fines and red faces would fix that, but of course, the point is to PRETEND to disclose….

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The Rise of Out-of-State Money

Democratic Party campaign donors from outside Virginia. Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Contributions from Democratic Party out-of-state donors has reached a new peak in Virginia’s 2019 legislative elections — $3.4 million, or 15% of total donations — according to new data visualization graphic published by the Virginia Public Access Project.

A similar trend is visible among Republican donors, though not as pronounced.

Out-of-state Republican Party donations.

As out-of-state moneyed interests assume a bigger role in campaign financing, we can expect the preoccupations and proclivities of those donors to influence the tenor of Virginia politics. In other words, we can expect Virginia politics to become even more hyper-partisan and vicious.

–JAB

Dominion Has Lost the Dems. What’s Next?

Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Dominion Energy is fast losing the Democratic Party. Following the lead of dozens of Democratic candidates and elected officials, the Democratic Party of Virginia has declared that it will no long accept political contributions from the electric utility. Reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker said Dominion’s contributions are a “very contentious issue with a lot of folks all across the commonwealth, and we thought it was time for us to just step up and say this is where we are,” according to an interview published on the left-leaning blog Blue Virginia.

Party spokesman Jake Rubenstein confirmed the decision but would not comment further. DPVA’s pledge also includes Appalachian Power, the state’s other electric monopoly.

The House Democratic Caucus and Gov. Ralph Northam’s political arm The Way Ahead are still accepting Dominion money, but it’s clear which way the party is heading. Virginia Democrats increasingly embrace a progressive/left ideology along with an apocalyptic view of climate change and a thorough-going hostility toward fossil fuels. Although Dominion is moving aggressively toward renewable energy, including a just-announced $7.8 billion offshore wind project as well as billions of dollars in solar projects, the utility still remains committed to natural gas, as highlighted by its Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, and nuclear power, which is also unpopular with the Left, as supplementary energy sources. Continue reading

Virginia’s Dark Money Legal Machine

Sen. Jill Vogel

When the deep-pocketed corporate backers of “Doctor Patient Unity” set up their dark money entity, they registered the partnership in Virginia. The State Corporation Commission filing listed the partnership’s registered agent as North Rock Reports, LLC, in Warrenton.

North Rock, reports the New York Times in an article about Doctor Patient Unity’s $28 million advertising campaign to influence Congress on legislation affecting surprise medical billing (see previous post), is common to more than 150 other political action groups. North Rock’s name surfaced a couple of years ago in news reports about “Protect America’s Consumers,” a group that attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a creation of the Obama administration criticized by conservatives for engaging in regulatory overkill. The LLC also has ties to the Republican National Committee, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

It turns out that North Rock Reports LLC has its own SCC registration filing, and North Rock’s registered agent is Jason Torchinsky, who, coincidentally enough, listed the very same business address as North Rock — 45 North Hill Dr., Suite 100, Warrenton — and is a partner of the Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC law firm at the same address. The “Holzman Vogel” in the firm refers to founding partner Jill Holtzman Vogel, a state senator from Winchester and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Continue reading

National Dark Money Campaign Sloshes into Virginia

Rep. Ben Cline — one of 50 Congressmen targeted by $28 million dark money campaign

A lot of things are happening in our dysfunctional health care system outside the public view. But every so often, a piece of flotsam pops to the surface that reveals the rent-seeking behavior by private interests in a system regulated at every level by government. The latest revelation concerns two private equity-backed physician-staffing groups behind a $28 million national ad campaign aimed at pressuring members of Congress, including Rep. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge.

This particular incident also illustrates the role of dark money in our political system. Rather than influence elected officials directly by contributing to their campaigns, this initiative sought to pressure them by influencing their constituents.

By way of background, many hospitals — including those in Virginia — staff their emergency departments with physicians who belong to TeamHealth, Envision Healthcare, or other groups that specialize in operating emergency rooms. Emergency medicine is a specialized niche, and these firms claim to do a better job of managing emergency rooms than most hospitals can themselves. This TeamHealth white paper describes how outsourcing can “transform” hospital emergency departments when “patient flow is crawling, outcome measures are flagging, and there’s bad blood among physicians.” Continue reading