How Influence Is Played in Richmond

By Peter Galuszka

It helps to have an influential father, especially if you are Peter Farrell.

The 36 year-old former Republican delegate and financial investor has been named to the Board of Visitors of Virginia Commonwealth University by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Northam, a Democrat, has accepted thousands of dollars in political donations from Thomas Farrell, Peter’s father, who heads Dominion Energy, which has also contributed to Northam.

There’s nothing especially wrong with young Farrell’s appointment although his age and relative inexperience might raise eyebrows. He served in the House of Delegates from Henrico County from 2012 to 2018 when he said he wanted to “retire” to spend more time with his family and investment business.

But there’s always been a whiff of inside baseball with him. According to a 2016 book by Richmond author Jeff Thomas, the way was cleared for Farrell’s ascendance into politics literally behind closed doors.

In 2011, political veteran Bill Janis, then the Republican delegate from the district, decided to resign so he could run for commonwealth’s attorney in Henrico. Six other Republicans threw their hats in the ring. Among them were Dave Brat, a local economics professor, and Peter Farrell, listed as an “amateur thespian.”

The candidate was decided by a four-person GOP panel. The choice was Farrell. Reportedly, the coziness of the decision enraged Brat so much that he ran for Congress next year against Eric Cantor, a fair-haired boy from the Richmond establishment who was in the running to be Speaker of the House.

Brat hit a sensitive nerve. Cantor had been badly alienating his constituents but didn’t seem to realize it. When Brat won with Tea Parry help, it made national news. In 2018, Brat had followed too closely in Cantor’s footsteps by ignoring voters and was ousted by Abigail Spanberger, a young former covert officer from the CIA.

Peter Farrell, meanwhile, worked in the House and appeared in a movie that was put together by (curiously) his father, the head of the power company. The “Field of Lost Shoes” about a group of Virginia Military Institute cadets during the Civil War. Farrell played a Union officer.

That might seem like a fun and worthy thing to do, but there was a hitch. The Farrells drew a fair amount of criticism because the film got a $200,000 grant from the state. Tom Farrell is one of the highest earning corporate executives in the country. It’s not as if he seems to be lacking for funds.

Peter Farrell does seem to have many close ties to VCU. He went Collegiate, an elite, private prep school in Richmond, and then the University of Virginia.

There are other links to powerful people. Richard Cullen of the white shoe McGuire Woods law firm is a family relative. Michael Rao, president of VCU, is a public supporter of a huge private downtown project headed by Tom Farrell. Dominion buildings would be included in a special tax zone to help fund it but that’s another story.

Stay tuned for the next edition of “As Richmond Turns.”

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23 responses to “How Influence Is Played in Richmond

  1. Yet the concerns about the Bidens are all off base or “discredited?” Please, Peter, this is the world – not just Richmond. Getting $3 million bucks to have your last name on the board letterhead beats hell out of an unpaid seat on the Board of Visitors. But on Burisma, we get told: Nothing to see here!

    I bet there are stories of connection and influence behind several of the recent appointments to university boards, just as there always have been. I’m not sure why the Farrells get singled out. Certainly my own appointment to SCHEV almost a decade ago was openly political, having been GOP caucus director when McDonnell came to the House. I think I brought a little value to that board. The real story here, which I’ve mentioned before, is that the Dominion versus the Democrats posturing of a month ago, pre-election, was indeed a show for the clueless.

  2. Steve. Please show me where a defended the Bidens.

  3. Does anyone, expect the Wapo, think Hunter Biden did not violate the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? But then the Post closes its eyes to the rape allegations against Bill Clinton. Arrogance and corruption does not depend on one’s political beliefs or affiliation. It’s the failure to have one set of rules that apply to all that is creating the giant rifts in America.

  4. The “influence” game is equal opportunity and non-partisan as demonstrated by Northam!

    Let me relate a short story about a non-profit in Fredericksburg that was looking for candidates for it’s Board of Directors. Of course, there was support to pick people from Communities of interest in the goals of the Non-Profit.

    But there was strong support to pick some widely-known and well-respected folks that had no current/existing connection to the Non-Profit because there was an attitude that those folks could gather in new supporters including those who would bring money.

    I have no doubt what-so-ever that Hunter Biden was picked because of who he was/is and I have no doubt what-so-ever if you looked around further, you’d find that is not an uncommon practice.

    So… in general… we should “investigate” whoever gets appointed to a board?

    Trying to figure out where the Ying attacked the Yang… what is “okay” and when does it cross the line?

    And is that the SAME as requiring someone like Northam to have the State Police “investigate” who was appointed as a condition of him getting funding for something he wants?

    Is that on the same level as appointments to boards?

    • Peter didn’t defend the Bidens and I’m not going to try to defend Trump. But I think it is fair to ask if he is offended by the way Richmond works, is he equally concerned by how Washington does? I think any “investigation” into the younger Biden’s appointment would reveal what is obvious, it was done to curry favor with the father. The Farrell thing is different how?

      • The Biden/Farrell thing are similar in my mind also BUT… I don’t see putting well known/well-connected folks on non profit/business boards as the same as other types of “influence”. A lot of boards WANT these folks as opposed to them being forced to take them.
        Usually there is no “coercion” , just a desire on the part of the board to have that well-connected individual as an asset to their mission.

        In Bidens case, clearly that was for that company to have some level of representation with the US govt and in Farrells case – it was different in that it was the Govt doing a favor for him that apparently was not going to happen on it’s own.

        I guess you can call it “influence peddling” but it’s pretty common in the non-govt arena also.

        That is what I call – ” if you do something for me, I’ll do something for you” versus – ” if you don’t do something for me, what I WANT, then I’m going to cause you some trouble – AND it’s a Govt saying it” and most folks would call that a threat and de facto extortion.

        That can happen in a non-govt setting also – and does but when Govt does it – it’s a step up because of the power and authority govt does have – over the private sector.

        For instance, if a Gov told the State Police to investigate an elected GA person or else the Gov would withhold some of their budget funding from them , I think most folks would call that corruption.

        I think this is a REALLY GOOD example that a lot of things are NOT binary, black/white – they are gray – and various aspects make a difference, i.e. plain vanilla influence peddling is NOT high octane extortion/corruption – at least in my mind.

  5. Let’s see, Steve. I have lived in dc, chicago, new york, boston and moscow. Some similarities. Played differently in moscow. A friend of mine, liberal reformer boris nemtsov, was gunned down while walking near the Kremlin. And friend investigative reporter Yuri Schoekoshoekin was poisoned. What was your point again?

    • 1) Ad hominem personal attacks are your forte, pretty much the only play you have and 2) you only aim them at people you disagree with, but don’t apply the same standards to people you agree with. A post pointing out how the whole appointment process is tainted by connections and influence, with Farrell as one of many examples, would have had more validity. But it would not have been news to 99.3 percent of the readers of this blog. You just wanted to take a shot at the Farrells.

      • In my mind, an Ad Hominem is when someone attacks you personally – not someone else and it’s “personal” from hem to YOU about YOUR character, not criticism – whether justified or not in the eyes of others.

        If Peter said to Steve that Steve has low morals – THAT’s an AD HOMINEM!

        But if Peter said that Farrell had low morals in a comment to Steve and NOT directed personally at Farrell – that’s NOT.

        If I tell folks here that I think Trump is an idiot – that’s a comment but I tell Trump to his face that he is an idiot then that’s an Ad Hominem!

        If Steve says here in BR that Northam is a craven heretic, that’s NOT an Ad Hominem!

        Other thoughts?

  6. Steve,
    I agree. I have not made any ad hominem attacks against you in this post. Peter Farrell is a public figure. What’s your problem?
    Peter

  7. Peter’s point is well taken and it has nothing to do with Hunter Biden (who puts Peter Farrell to shame in the greased eel department). Rather than deflect Peter’s argument by citing a national politician’s son why not answer the points Peter made? You guys are no better than the liberals who answer every question about anything with … “But, but, but – what about Trump”.

  8. “Peter Farrell does seem to have many close ties to VCU. He went Collegiate, an elite, private prep school in Richmond, and then the University of Virginia.”

    I don’t get it. How does going to Collegiate (wherever that may be) and UVA give you close ties to VCU?

  9. Don. My fault. I meant that going to Collegiate and uva means he was not so involved in the vcu sphere. My computers are screwed and i will adjust as i can

  10. Peter’s argument is Farrell does not deserve to be appointed to the VCU BoV because 1) of who his daddy is and 2) he took a small role in a failed movie produced by that daddy about evil Virginia Confederates, 3) he’s related somehow to Richard Cullen and 4) he didn’t actually go to VCU, which is in no way required. None of those relate to his qualifications for the board, or why he might want to serve. They are personal details – in other words, purely ad hominem, an argument against the person. But because of who it is, the applause is deafening. I KNOW all of you are smarter than this, can write about things that actually matter. Cheap shot.

    • I agree with Steve – Cheap Shot driven by deep seated prejudice.

      The great sad thing is that Cheap Shots driven by deep seated prejudices are ubiquitous today, everywhere, all over, in our society today, especially among our leaders who know better but no longer care, so Peter’s piece is the norm, not the exception.

      • Translation of above comment:

        Peter’s piece is just another iteration of:

        1/ The now imploding trumped up Trump impeachment show trial in Congress,

        2/ the UVA president’s effort to run the gun salute to our lost in battle veterans off the Grounds of the University of Virginia,

        3/ The absurd smear campaign against Justice candidate Bret Cavenaugh, nothing more that an effort to pack Supreme Court.

        4/ The contrived Charlotteville riots contrived to erase Virginia’s history while smearing whole generations of our dead, cooked up mostly at UVA.

        These smears, so ubiquitous now, were all cheap political tricks in tradition of Blackface Northham’s Confederate redneck pick-up truck rampage campaign video charade against “children of color,” a race baiting lie that won an election for Blackface.

  11. Steve,
    I can question the qualifications of anyone I want who is picked to head a large state-funded institution. In my opinion, this one seems to have little experience but he does have family connections. You might not like stories about how the power elite somewhere is structured but that’s your problem. As far as your personal advice, I will take it under advisement.
    Reed, I really don’t know what to say or understand how all of these things are co0nnected.

    • Peter you said, “Steve, I can question the qualifications of anyone I want who is picked to head a large state-funded institution.”

      Right, Peter. And you can be questioned by anyone about your reporting of “anyone.” Here I believe Steve’s critique is right. The implication here in your story is that the Farrell kid has done something wrong. What is it? All I see is a non story on that issue. And my elaboration is on how non stories finding personal fault, those without real foundation are cooked up and inflated to advance one’s political objectives more and more in America, and how this has become ubiquitous and vicious within today’s culture, such as examples given.

      On the other hand, if you can’t find that somebody’s kid did anything wrong, but instead that humans act like humans most always, favoring their kin over over others, an obvious truth, then tell the story that way and bring in other examples everywhere to be found.

      For example:

      Michele Obama is today’s leading candidate for a winning Presidential campaign against Trump, among the smart money in Democratic Party, and most party faithful.

      Now there is a story really worth talking about, as the story lies squarely within how we all, no matter who we are, think within groups seeking and choosing leaders. And here the bloodlines of royalty, Kings and Queens, are alive and well in Democratic party, and indeed within much of America, despite constant claims of deep racism in our society. How does that work? And why?
      That is a real and very timely story, tied into the one you were trying to tell in Virginia.

  12. Reed,
    This is what I actually wrote. You seemed to have skipped over it:

    “There’s nothing especially wrong with young Farrell’s appointment although his age and relative inexperience might raise eyebrows.”

    I have two very smart daughters aged 30 and 28. Would I recommend them to a BOV? Not right now.

  13. Peter –

    “He served in the House of Delegates from Henrico County from 2012 to 2018 when he said he wanted to “retire” to spend more time with his family and investment business.

    But there’s always been a whiff of inside baseball with him …”

    Hardly, inexperienced kid with 6 years in house of delegates, right?

    • Actually, Peter, this kid Farrell has far more political experience as a 6 year sitting member of the esteemed Virginia House of Delegates than has Michelle Obama who has none whatsoever. Yet she’s eagerly awaited as our next Democratic Presidential nominee to run against Trump. What a story to tell, the Farrell kid versus Michelle, why is Michelle different.

      • I did not know michelle obama was a candidate for vcu bov. If she runs for prez tell your ass$$&@ pal Haner i will vote for her in a chicago minute.

        • Ok, now you have made an ad hominem attack against me. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving, Peter…..And I for one would love to see Mrs. Obama on some Virginia BoV, she’s obviously very accomplished and probably knows some big donors.

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