Irony: Clean Money Group Donates More than Power Company


The Virginia Public Access Project has updated its list of largest campaign donors in Virginia, and the results making good reading.

My money is cleaner than yours. Perhaps the most fascinating tidbit is that Charlottesville-based Michael Bills, founder of Clean Virginia and scourge of Dominion Energy Virginia’s influence on state politics, has injected more money into the political system than Dominion has so far in 2018-2019. Bills donated $245,000 while Dominion contributed $190,940. (The Dominion number does not include personal contributions by Dominion executives. CEO Thomas Farrell, for example, has given $7,500 so far. Dominion executives Paul Koonce and William Murray chipped in $5,000 and $4,500 respectively. Still, Bills managed to give more than Dominion’s PAC and executives combined.)

Clean Virginia’s mantra: “In Virginia, corruption is legal, and it is time for that to end.” Clean Virginia’s solution: The organization out-bids its sworn enemy for the loyalty of Virginia legislators.

To my mind, the most fascinating untold story in Virginia politics today is the rise of Charlottesville’s landed aristocracy as a bankroller of liberal and Democratic Party causes. Virginia’s horse country gentry helped lefty Tom Periello nearly unseat moderate Ralph Northam in the 2017 Democratic Party nomination for governor. I view Bills’ Clean Virginia initiative as a continuation of that momentum.

Speaking of big money… Democratic PACs and allied groups totally dominate the list of largest donors. These include the Stronger Together PAC, which raised money for Northam’s campaign; the Laborer’s District Council, which gave heavily to the Northam campaign; and the Commonwealth Victory Fund and the Legislative Majority PAC, two Democratic Party-aligned groups.

The biggest GOP-leaning donor was William B. Holzman, a Shenandoah Valley oil and gas distributor. Collectively speaking, Virginia’s big businesses — Dominion, Comcast, Verizon, Altria, and the Realtors and Bankers associations — lean to the GOP but they spread their money between both parties. If political power in the General Assembly shifts to the Democrats, the corporate money likely will follow.

How will the media cover this story? As far as I can tell, only David Ress with the Daily Press has reported on the latest VPAP numbers. His focus, unsurprisingly, was Dominion — although he took a man-bites-dog angle on the story, noting that the utility is not the biggest campaign contributor this year. I’m waiting for the media to start showing the same level of interest in the other big-money players as it does in Dominion. And don’t get me started about all the “dark money” sloshing around the system. I’ll save that for another day.

Postscript: By the way, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is out-raising Republican Corey Stewart by a ratio of about 17 to one. Clearly, Virginia’s moneyed class is avoiding the Trumpier-than-Trump candidate like the Ebola virus. Worse for Stewart, he’s even losing the small-donation race (less than $200) by a margin of about three-to-one. This race will be a wash-out. The Virginia GOP looks like it’s in huuuge trouble.

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13 responses to “Irony: Clean Money Group Donates More than Power Company

  1. As one of the few Trump supporters on this blog my right-leaning political beliefs are, I think, established. Having said that … good for Michael Bills. Given that the General Assembly has proven that it won’t police itself when it comes to unlimited political donations the only answer is a counter-balance to the vested interests. The pro-Dominion types (inevitably from the Richmond area) question Mr. Bills’ motives making the point that Bills may have ulterior motives. He might have such motives. Or, he might not. However, one thing I know for sure … Dominion sure as hell has ulterior motives. Dominion has been playing the General Assembly like a fiddle for decades.

    As for Charlottesville threatening Richmond’s Pyongyang-like control of state politics … Thank God. It’s about time that the River City fed swamp got some competition. If the possibility of moving the state capital from Richmond to Charlottesville were put on a ballot I’d vote “yes”. Time to break the Richmond elite’s death grip on Virginia’s throat (and wallet).

    Finally, the 2018 – 2019 buyoff statistics are perhaps a bit misleading. 2018 is a null year politically with regard to Virginia state politics. Let’s see how the money flows as the run up to the 2019 elections proceed. My bet is that we’ll see the usual suspects ramp up their fiscal expression of civic responsibility.

  2. The Californication of Virginia? Silicon Valley and Hollywood both have eastern branches here in the Old Dominion. I suspect overall substantially more money is flowing into legislative coffers all around compared to two years and four years ago. That can be tied to just how close things are heading into 2019, although things might come to a head even before then. It is hard to imagine the Salem seat being vacated by Habeeb being hotly contested, but two years ago many other things were hard to imagine and last year they happened.

    “If political power in the General Assembly shifts to the Democrats, the corporate money likely will follow.” Like baby ducks following their mom, Jim, lined up straight.

  3. If one looks back at prior years – the picture is different. Bills was apparently not as generous or rich.

    I’m still amused that we question the motives of the Clean Energy folks as if they are just like Dominion. When challenged, the anti-green folks slide into conspiracy theories that the greenies are up to no good and “someone” MUST be “profiting” on the green side just like Dominion is on the Dominion side. Yessiree.. Mr. Bills is just priming the pump the same way Dominion is… those geenies are up to no good.. we just have trouble figuring out exactly what it is… but NO ONE gives money to politicians without expect a return on that investment, right?

    On the Trump issue. Does anyone think Trump would stop Dominion from lubricating the GA? hahahah.. on what planet! and how about boosting up the SCC so they can hold Dominion’s feet to the fire? bahahahah I love the Trumpsters.. in their own minds eye – Trump is going to “fix” things…that are “wrong” and of course – each supporter has their own idea of what is “wrong” that Trump will “fix”. The man is a grade A flipping idiot but he DOES know how to win elections and I do forever support our system of choosing leaders… good, bad or ugly… we get what we deserve…

    • As I’ve said before, just because someone isn’t looking to line his own pockets doesn’t make him a saint. People driven by ideology often want to impose their world view on others. Zealotry is the psychic equivalent of profit seeking. It is imperative for us as citizens to understand everyone’s motives. Not everyone is as pure-spirited as you and me, Larry.

      • That’s a valid point – but lobbying for more/better Green is not nefarious as it only puts on the table something that has to be accepted by a majority to be implemented , i.e. “forced on others”.

        I dare say the Clean Water, Clean Air, and automobile emissions standards that most of us now accept as correct and necessary – did NOT comes from folks like Dominion and related industries that fought it tooth and nail… and right now today – would roll a lot of it back in a heartbeat – just look at how Virginia Congressman want to roll back/gut the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup. So what about THOSE “motives”? Do we actually KNOW where the money to GUT the EPA and the Chesapeake Bay program is coming from?

      • How do we know that none of the donors are owners of real estate (directly or indirectly) near the ocean or other tidal bodies of water? How do we know that none of the donors are seeking taxpayer money to protect their real estate interests?

        Over time, I’ve learned that a lot of waterside real estate is built on landfill. Most of the parts of Manhattan that flooded in Hurricane Sandy were built on landfill. This past April a tour guide pointed out much of San Francisco’s land fronting the San Francisco Bay is also constructed on landfill. This includes much of the Financial District. If a landowner of such property (likely extremely wealthy or a corporate entity) is seeking strict regulations on carbon emissions, is he/she/it acting to protect property interests or for pure altruism?

        How we know whether these people don’t own companies or stock in companies that will make money from more carbon regulation or trading? Are they trying to keep a foundation or other tax exempt entity functioning (as well as a healthy salary for self, relative or friend)?

        Most of history’s true altruistic leaders were not in it for the money. Most were dirt poor. Neither the fossil fuel nor environmentalists spending money seem to fit that definition. While one is not to look a gift horse in the mouth, one damn well better if the horse comes from Troy. Both sides are Trojans in my view.

        • That’s a bit of a stretch. Bills is using $250,000 to stop global warming in order to save some seaside property he might (or might not) own? First of all, if there really is global warming and it really is causing a rise in sea levels then Bills is doing everybody a favor, not just himself. How much money will it cost Virginia to save / fix Hampton Roads if the sea really is rising? Shouldn’t there be some legislators who take their hands out of Dominion’s pockets and consider what might be best for Virginia? Secondly, is there any question that Dominion has been buying off our legislature for decades? Do you have to wonder what Dominion’s motives are?

          Bills if offering legislators in America’s most corrupt state a way to get money without taking it from the monopoly, regulated electric company. Even if he has ulterior motives the politicians now have a choice. If 20% of our legislature chooses to take Bills’ money instead of Dominions’ that will be enough to stop Dominion from steamrolling legislation through the General Assembly. However, it will not be enough for Bills to get anything he might be interested in steamrolled through the legislature.

          • TooManyTaxes

            I don’t disagree with efforts to use renewable energy and to reduce carbon emissions, just like we need to be careful with anything emitted into the atmosphere. But we don’t understand climate and how and why it changes. More significantly, we don’t know what is the normal sea level.

            Years ago my grandparents owned a lake cabin in Minnesota. My earliest memories were of a short beach and high lake level. Over time, the lake level receded substantially, especially in the early 1960s. But before my grandparents sold their property in the early 1970s, the lake level rose even higher than it was in the 1950s. I dare anyone to say with certainty what was the “normal” lake level.

            The same applies to sea levels. Oceans have been much lower and much higher based on what we know. What is the normal level?

            As taxpayers we are all stuck for paying to keep federal and state facilities operating. But should the public pay for sea and bayside landowners? How about those who have built on landfill? And, if so, why? Like many things in life, climate change will be manipulated to transfer wealth from the many to a select few. It’s no different that the Commonwealth’s decision to transfer the Dulles Toll Road to MWAA and force DTR users to pay the biggest and uncapped portion of the costs of building the Silver Line. And what is more, growth in Tysons, except for traffic, is quite slow despite the investment in the Silver Line. Meanwhile growth in Reston is exploding and it will never have rail stations similar to those in Tysons.

            I have no more faith in Bills, for example, than I do in Dominion to do what’s right for ordinary people. Why don’t we impose a tax on ocean and bayfront landowners to pay for a significant portion of the costs for protecting their landholdings?

          • There are two discrete sets of questions here.

            (1) What is Bills’ philosophy/ideology/motive in involving himself in Virginia politics? What are the merits of his animus against Dominion?

            (2) Highlighting the fact that Bills has become a major contributor of money, even as he denounces the role of money in politics.

            While Bills’ involvement is significant on its own terms, I happen to think that it is an ever bigger story as an indicator of the increasing assertiveness of the once-quiescent Charlottesville landed gentry in Virginia politics.

      • EVERYONE who votes – who lobbies – can be said to be “ideological” and “wanting to force their views on others”. So far you – there is no “right” or “good” thing that benefits people and society? It’s all about money for any/all who lobby and try to influence elected and legislation?

        I’d say you have completed your journey to suspecting everyone of nefarious motives – and “public interest” and a clean environment are just masquerades and tropes for folks really out to line their pockets!

        Libertarians are conflicted and largely inherently irresponsible about the impacts of our activities on each other and the environment. It all comes down to one thing – money… that’s the only value that really matters and all folks who lobby – are after that one thing. RIght?

    • As discussed in a later post, there’s nothing wrong with anyone — and I include corporations as well as people in anyone — giving money to influence public discussion — subject in principle to some very big, very well recognized exceptions: (1) no charitable exemption from taxes without qualifying as a charity and transparency to prove it; (2) campaign contribution and lobbying limitations; and (3) additional lobbying limitations on public service companies, who have a compact with the State for a monopoly in exchange for putting up with regulation by the State. On all three of those fronts the State of Virginia is weak, weak, weak. I’m coming around to the persuasion that the I.C.S. is a real phenomenon in Richmond.

  4. re: ” How do we know that none of the donors are owners of real estate (directly or indirectly) near the ocean or other tidal bodies of water? How do we know that none of the donors are seeking taxpayer money to protect their real estate interests?”

    How do we know you don’t beat the heck out of your wife TMT?

    We try to attribute bad/illegal/immoral/wrong behavior to someone by asking “How do you know”?

    Come on guy. This is conspiracy theory stuff.

    Is it so hard for you to believe that a LOT of people DO CARE about the environment and are willing to donate money to groups that advocate for it without seeing all of them the donors and the public interest groups as nefarious bad guys up to no good?

    Sorry guy. We have laws today Clean Air and Water, Superfund, stormwater, many others – due to the efforts AND MONEY of some folks while others thrown mud at these groups and accuse them of being just like the industry groups that oppose clean air and water solely for obvious profit motives.. The Cigarette scandal is an example.. where the industry successfully attacked scientists and science in an effort to undermine them and keep them from telling the truth about smoking. Ditto – right now – for the Climate – same tactics – and they are working.. they’ve convinced a lot of people that science “lies”.. because.. they own real estate and waterfront? LORD!

    • So Larry, what is the normal sea level? And why shouldn’t people/institutions who have a vested interest in a specific sea level pay for part of the costs of protecting that level? You’ve argued against taxpayer subsidies for flood insurance. In other words, those who build in flood plains should pay the cost for insurance and protecting their property. Why shouldn’t those who build on the seacoast pay the cost for insurance or protecting their property? Why should some guy making $30 K living in Detroit pay more for heat, power, food and transportation so that seacoast property is protected?

      I’ve watched too many so-called “good guys” screw their neighbors. Many environmentalists want to impose their view of an acceptable lifestyle on others. And then send them the bill for changes. Finally, I’m still waiting for a green group to offer me a lower commodity rate for green electricity.

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