Is Dominion Campaigning Behind a Front Again?

By Steve Haner

An electric power industry lobbying and public relations group which has been financially supported by Dominion Energy Virginia is mailing out flyers to voters praising legislative incumbents who helped Dominion pass favorable legislation this year.

A mailer supporting incumbent Fairfax Democratic Senator George Barker caused the Democrat blog Blue Virginia to respond with anger Friday. What appeared to be the same message appeared in mailboxes in the district of Henrico Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavant. How many other incumbents received the mailer may not be known until the group reports its campaign spending.

If it actually does report the mailers as campaign donations.  Barker is in a very contested party primary June 20, but Dunnavant is not on the ballot until November. The mailer merely “thanks” them for “delivering energy savings for Virginia.” Votes are not directly solicited.

If anybody has received the mailer in support of a Virginia legislator who did not seek a new term, please note that in the comment section. Odds are only legislators seeking new terms got the flyer, one more sign it’s basically a campaign donation, not a legitimate “thank you.”

The group is called Power for Tomorrow and is based in Arlington. The Energy and Policy Institute, a non-profit that often clashes with the utilities over policy, notes that a donation of about $800,000 to Power for Tomorrow appears on a 2021 Dominion disclosure form. A few years back Power for Tomorrow apparently sent out mail in Virginia focused on energy regulation issues, but without using the names or photographs of individual candidates. That drew fire from Ivy Main of the Sierra Club, also reported in 2021 on Blue Virginia.

The Energy and Policy Institute reports Power for Tomorrow spent up to $200,000 on advertising in Virginia between 2018 and 2022, compared to only tiny amounts in a few other states. The Virginia focus for that period was obvious.

Power for Tomorrow does show up on the Virginia Public Access Project’s database as registered to lobby in the legislature during the 2022-23 cycle, when Dominion proposed a very favorable regulatory revision. The bill that eventually passed was changed significantly from the bill as introduced, but still included a higher profit margin for the monopoly and a way for it to delay passing the full cost of fuel onto its customers. The fuel bill (with interest) will hit consumers after the 2023 election instead.

The mailer praising Dunnavant parrots Dominion’s exact talking points in favor of the legislation during the 2023 session. It is all about claims that revisions to the law reduced customer bills, a speculative prediction at best as the utility continues its massive multi-phase, multibillion-dollar investments into wind, solar and battery generation. The claims have been dissected elsewhere (here and here, for example.)

It is fair to now bring up what happened two years ago, when Dominion used another front group to intervene in the Virginia elections while trying to hide its fingerprints. At least this time the issue involved is actually energy regulation, not a faked interest in protecting Second Amendment gun rights. Dominion now needs to be pressed, to the extent Virginia’s toothless media will do so, on whether it funded and wrote the Barker and Dunnavant mailers (or any others).

Energy regulatory matters are complicated and important. The debate over electric deregulation, the impact of various regulatory models on cost and reliability, are all important to consumers and the industry. The views of the industry itself should be asserted forcefully along with other opinions. But dollars spent on behalf of individual candidates, or against those candidates, need to be fully and promptly disclosed.

Dominion still doesn’t seem to get that.