Dominion, Clean VA Spend $23M Buying Influence

By Steve Haner

Dominion Energy Virginia has increased its donations to Virginia state politicians six-fold in just four years. The other major donors in the energy regulation arena, Clean Virginia Fund and its founder, have done much the same. They are donating five times more in the 2023 election cycle than they did in the similar 2019 cycle.

The two political behemoths have donated about $23 million between them, compared to about $4 million four years ago. The totals really won’t be known until the final reports are due after Tuesday’s election.

Virginia’s election laws are so porous, the real spending won’t be clear even then. Here in the last weekend another round of mailings in favor of various candidates has appeared from an advocacy group called Power for Tomorrow. It sent similar mailings out just before the June primary.

Reporting at that time noted that Dominion had provided funding for Power for Tomorrow, which basically is praising candidates who had voted for Dominion’s 2023 regulatory bill. There is every reason to believe it is acting at Dominion’s behest, and no question these mailers are intended to promote the candidates.

No data on who received them or what they cost, for either the primary or general election mailers, can be found at Virginia Public Access Project. The text does not actually say to vote for the candidate in focus, which may be the claimed loophole.

The mailer that appeared in Henrico County mailboxes praising Senator Siobahn Dunnavant used exactly the same talking points that Dominion has used through the year to describe that bill, which had its good and bad points. The mailer appeared just one day after the State Corporation Commission implemented part of that bill, allowing Dominion to convert two years of unpaid fuel bills into a bond, and then make its ratepayers pay off the bond over 7 years.

Depending on the final interest rates on the deal, that will cost Virginians hundreds of millions of dollars in interest they otherwise would not owe. It removes a pesky $1.3 billion debt from the company’s balance sheet and replaces it with a quick infusion of free cash flow.

Keep those sums in mind as it helps explain what you will read next.

The Virginia Public Access Project’s most recent compilation shows Dominion’s 2022-23 total for donations at $12.8 million. Four years ago, when the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate were last both on the line, the total donated was a mere $2 million and change.

Clean Virginia was founded with the express mission of weaning Virginia politicians off of Dominion money. Its issue advocacy has included campaign finance reform, but it is also a lobbying group pushing wind, solar and battery electricity generation and fighting to end fossil fuels.

In this cycle, its total donations are up to $10 million and change. Four years ago, it donated less than $400,000. But its principal funder and leader is wealthy Charlottesville hedge fund founder Michael Bills, and in 2019 he mainly gave his money directly to candidates. Between them the total was about $2 million, so the figure four years later is five times that amount.

This is equally astounding: four years ago, the largest sum Dominion gave to any individual candidate was $82,500.  This time around, so far, 15 candidates have received more than $250,000, and the highest amount donated is almost $700,000. Clean Virginia’s largest donations exceed $600,000.

Those single donations are more than most legislative campaigns cost in total just a few short years ago. Many are still costing less. The argument that sums those large do not influence legislator votes should be met with derision.

By way of comparison, the state’s second largest investor-owned electricity provider, Appalachian Power Company, donated about $300,000 four years ago and $400,000 total this cycle.

While Dominion and Clean Virginia often clash over regulatory issues, on many issues they are closely aligned. If any serious effort is put forward to repeal or amend the Virginia Clean Economy Act, both will lobby against that. Both are keen for electric vehicles and will work to protect that mandate. Both strongly support Dominion’s offshore wind development and rapidly growing fleet of solar farms.

There is a current division over how much fossil fuel generation to retain going forward, and they could butt heads on that in the next General Assembly.

Dominion’s money is fairly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Clean Virginia over its years of giving has provided 98% to Democrats.

Four years ago, there was no Virginia Clean Economy Act, no mandatory renewable energy percentages, no mandate to stop the sale of new gasoline vehicles. Four years ago, the $9.8 billion (or more) wind project was still in the planning stages and hadn’t filed for regulatory approval. Now the massive project is underway, one of the few in the U.S. still on track entirely due to its favorable regulatory environment. Those favorable rules were provided by (wait for it) these very same legislators.

A $23 million investment in keeping the legislature compliant and obedient makes perfect sense once you realize the billions and billions of dollars the transition to wind, solar and battery will extract from Virginia’s residential and business ratepayers over the next decade. Dominion and Clean Virginia both understand return on investment.

This is the biggest mistake offshore wind developers in New Jersey and New York made, the ones that in recent weeks have backed out of various offshore wind deals. They failed to take the additional step of buying themselves a friendly legislature to write the procurement rules. Of course, those states both have campaign contribution limits in their laws, an inconvenience not faced by Dominion Energy or Clean Virginia.

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25 responses to “Dominion, Clean VA Spend $23M Buying Influence”

  1. Don Bowler Avatar
    Don Bowler

    Good article. This is exactly how Dominion gets to do whatever they want in the state and the taxpayers suffer the consequences.

  2. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    Steve, this is very informative. Thank you. Getting rid of VCEA and having real campaign finance reform are critical and high priority legislative actions.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      You may think this election is about abortion, but follow the money and you see it is about energy regulation. Trying to tinker with, let alone repeal, VCEA will be a nice hill to die on.

    2. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      You may think this election is about abortion, but follow the money and you see it is about energy regulation. Trying to tinker with, let alone repeal, VCEA will be a nice hill to die on.

      1. William O'Keefe Avatar
        William O’Keefe

        It’s always about following the money. We need total transparency of political donations and easy access to that information.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Fleecing Virginians since 1787. Dominion’s ancestry traces back to the Appomattox Trustees, who built canals for the Commonwealth. The seven trustees were granted enormous powers and they used them!
    The original bandits were:
    John Pride, John Holcombe, Joseph Micheaux, John Archer, Joseph Jones, Everand Meade, and Richard Crump.

    Reading over the powers granted to these men, nothing has changed really. Hard to believe, after all of the blood and sweat of the Revolution we would grant such powers!

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      My thoughts on the matter often migrate to the colorful founder of my former employer, Newport News Shipbuilding. Collis P. Huntington was one of the Big Four founders of the Central Pacific Railway, then founder of the future CSX. The ultimate robber baron of the age. But he’s the one with the philosophy “we shall build good ships.”

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Only $23M? In a real State, like California, that won’t buy but two State Senators, maybe a judge. Virginia really is a good State for business.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      The explosion in spending by the two entities, Dom and Clean VA, recalls the story about what happens to litigation costs when the second lawyer shows up in a small town. The idea Clean VA was going to reduce corruption was laughable from day one. It started a bidding war.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Capitalism at its finest.

        1. Tom Blau Avatar

          No it’s not capitalism. It’s statism, the state-run and regulatedeconomy. Limited competition and private investment, but lots of inside
          dealing. Like socialism, but with fewer excuses. See The
          Baptists and the Bootlegger, by AdamSmith and Bruce Yandle.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Are the co-ops much different?

          2. Tom Blau Avatar

            LarrytheG, I’m sorry but I don’t get your Q. Pls explain.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            Oops , sorry.. I don’t get notice for all comments and I only find them by going back to the actual thread.

            re: ” No it’s not capitalism. It’s statism, the state-run and regulatedeconomy. Limited competition and private investment, but lots of inside
            dealing. ”

            So we have about 13 electric co-ops in Virginia and in discussing issues WRT to Dominion, the co-ops are almost never mentioned so do they walk/talk like Dominion in terms of their goals and dealings with the SCC and the GA , campaign contributions, et al?

            If we had the power and opportunity to turn Dominion into a Co-op entity?

            I get the impression that Mr, Haner learned and knows much about Dominion and it’s structure and political and SCC process and dealings but not sure about the Co-ops (or he has much less interest).

            So basic question – Are the Co-ops in Virginia structured more like some non-profits in other states or are they more structured like mini-Dominion entities?

          4. I don’t know 🙂

    2. energyNOW_Fan Avatar

      If Va. is a good state for business, why are we not getting any like TN, NC, etc?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        How could we have all those tax surpluses if we were not a good business state? 😉

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I guess ‘cause $23M will buy those entire States, maybe? “An appliance on every porch!”

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    Trying to sort out the idea of hedge fund profits finding it’s way into the political realm via pockets of the elected.

    Bad idea? Good idea? Better than corporate money?

  6. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    How much is really oppositional?
    Seems like they are much on the same page as to climate change green nude eel BS.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Yes. They often agree.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        well , in this case, it’s just a guy who made his money that way and could have made it other ways and then did the same with it.

        It’s not like hedge funds are involving themselves with some utility companies and political campaigns (as far as I know).

        And if they are, then what exactly is their goal? Hedge folks typically work to squeeze more efficiency out of a company they believe is too sloth….or not tuned to the market, etc… not sure what hedge funds would want for a utility like Dominion…

  7. DJRippert Avatar

    Excellent column. The asinine unlimited campaign contribution rules in Virginia are a disgrace to the Commonwealth.

    This is especially true for the monopoly energy provider that buys off the legislators who regulate it.

    Yet neither party, or – more accurately – the uniparty, cares.

    All the piggies are at the tough.

    I had some hope that Youngkin might take on the issue during his campaign but – it wasn’t to be.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I was under the impression that SCOTUS had ruled campaign money as “free speech”. no?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        No. Citizens United was a fairly narrow ruling around private organizations publishing political material. At least, that’s my understanding. States can limit direct contributions to political candidates and 46 states do just that. As Steve H notes in his column – New York and New Jersey have such limits.

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