Their Money is Bad and Our Money is Righteous

Money In Politics

During the 2018 session I received a curious meeting invitation, hush-hush, from somebody who indicated a possible alliance in the struggle against the pending utility legislation. We had to meet away from the Pocahontas Building to avoid observers.  My curiosity led me to take the meeting, and it turned out to be about the Clean Virginia effort which sparked a Washington Post story Friday.

As the person described back in the winter how they were planning to fight Dominion’s political clout by asking legislators to take a pledge against Dominion money, and in exchange replace those dollars with their own funds, my reaction was immediate: What is the difference? Aren’t you also assuming that all legislators care about is who gives them money? Aren’t you also trying to buy votes?

That was the counter attack to expect, and I wanted nothing to do with it. It would be detrimental to our efforts. I predicted it would blow up. It was a short meeting and forgotten until reading Blue Virginia Sunday reacting to the Post. (I cannot remember if the Feb. 8 Times-Dispatch story about this was before or after I had that meeting, but at that point the group had not begun its pitch.)

Emailing a cash donation offer to 140 publicly-funded legislative inboxes – as Clean Virginia apparently did recently — was an intentional invitation to media attention. They had to expect a story. The assertion by Blue Virginia that the new Post story was a Dominion-inspired hit piece (“fed to the stenographers”?) is just more evidence that for far too many clueless activists these days (all sides), the end justifies any means and anyone who questions the means is an enemy.

The pitch came across as a quid pro quo because that is what it is. “Don’t take Dominion’s money and we will replace it” is pure “that for this.” It was the story I had predicted 90 days ago. A less sympathetic newspaper would have written a much tougher story. More coverage may yet follow. They have done Dominion a major favor.

I try not to argue with smart lawyers (Clean Virginia claims to have them) but every one of them who has ever advised me said do not, ever, not even indirectly, not in writing or just with a wink or nod, promise financial support in exchange for any action by a legislator. Likewise do not link financial support to any specific action after the fact.

As previously noted by me three weeks ago, the 2018 energy omnibus was all about political clout and huge campaign contributions, but it was the eventual alliance between Dominion Energy and the big environmental groups that pushed the final anti-consumer product onto the desk of a governor who had received unprecedented financial support from environmental groups plus the usual attentions from Dominion.

Nobody gives millions of dollars to politicians without expecting a return, not Dominion, not the League of Conservation Voters and not Clean Virginia if it gets into that big league. Everybody believes the return they are expecting is the right thing for Virginia. The conversation in Virginia about contribution limits should start now.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


18 responses to “Their Money is Bad and Our Money is Righteous”

  1. While we’re at it, they need to also make all FB PM’s and the like FOIA available.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    As usual , appreciate Steve’s tomes these days. Informative and thought-provoking.

    My first impression is to condemn what “Clean Virginia” is doing but then I wonder if what they are really saying is that “if this is how the game is played and others like Dominion are not about to change”… then perhaps this is how all of us play that game”.

    If I had my druthers neither of them and no others could do the money game but that does not seem to be in the cards.

    Companies essentially get to charge their customers for that donated money through careful accounting and non-companies that get donations – some from mega-donors… , more often than not – effectively laundered , etc.

    So is the reality that if you’re gonna be involved in advocating for and against legislation – that money is required no matter what side of the fence you’re on? Why pretend that what the corporations are doing is “right” cuz they follow some arcane “rules” and those like Clean Virginia are honor-bound to not do that?

    Seems like the status quo for corporations is acceptable but that same game by non-companies is not?

  3. TimShifflet Avatar

    First of all I have to take this whole post with a HUGE grain of salt since there’s a giant Dominion logo pasted on the front of this website.

    But more importantly Steve, whose writing I usually like, seems to have been in the alternate reality zone of Richmond too long to call things how they are.

    There’s a HUGE difference between the two groups he’s talking about that he doesn’t seem to understand. Dominion Energy is a monopoly that these lawmakers are supposed to be keeping watch on. Dominion doesn’t play by free market rules and in exchange the worst parts of their greed are supposed to be reigned in my the legislature. Except they are paying them off! From what I can tell, all this other group is doing is saying they shouldn’t have to do that, and here’s some funding so they don’t. Granted the whole system is broken, but those two things are by no means the same. I think Dominion’s monopoly should be broken up and they should have to compete in the free market like everyone else, but until that happens it’s ridiculous to think that they should get away with pouring that much cash into Richmond.

    What Steve is saying is that both fighters are paying the referee. But that just isn’t what it is. It’s one team paying millions to the referee, and the crowd watching the fight getting sick of it and paying for the referee so they can watch a fair fight.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Clean Virginia is not a regulated monopoly. The idea that money from Dominion is the same as money from an environmental group is pretty over the top. No legislator should take money from a monopoly they are supposed to regulate. If Ford Motor Company decides to hand out campaign contributions in Virginia – so what? I have a choice of lots of different cars. Electricity is a very different matter. I can use Dominion or buy a lot of candles I guess. It’s very very different for a regulated monopoly to pay off the regulators than for an environmental group to make campaign donations.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think TimShifflet said exactly what I feel – but way better than how I said it.

    Somehow in the eyes of some – Dominion is fully justified to do the money even though they are as TS says – a supposed regulated monopoly paying legislators who then alter the regulatory framework as well as the role of the regulators – and for some reason when the Green folks step in with some money – it’s an atrocity.

    Has Steve been at this so long he’s jaded? 😉

    I’d be just fine with a rule that says the Greens can’t donate and oh-by-the-way – neither can regulated monopolies.

    Pretty bad when the Greens giving money is corruption but it’s okay for the Corps…

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    The environmental groups have already demonstrated they can raise plenty of money and the rules in Virginia allow unlimited contributions. We have reached the point where I think there need to be limits. Now that the left also has oodles of money, and gives candidates for governor $2.8 million donations, maybe the business groups will want to talk about it finally. But Clean Virginia made an open “quid pro quo” offer that I think crossed a major line, and then Blue Virginia whined when a flag got thrown.

    Believe it or not, when things like that happen most legislators and most good lobbyists quietly get up and leave the room. I told them it would blow up.

    IMHO Dominion was on the ropes for a while there this year but it wasn’t me who made a deal and gave them what they wanted. No whining from the team that did.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Show me where the environmental groups are winning. We all can think of many, many examples of where Dominion is winning.

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    The Left and its environmental pals continue to play holier than thou. Pardon me while I gag. Money is money and the nature of the cause or interest group behind it doesn’t make a bit of difference.

    I don’t like Dominion. It’s does a crappy job of tree trimming and keeping service up and running. It serves up self-serving propaganda and it’s view of utility regulation is simply dishonest. It’s plan to use consumer refund money to upgrade the grid and then earn on the investment is simply legalized theft. Dominion’s rate freeze that excludes many expenses which are passed on to consumers is crooked.

    But in the battleground of ideas and politics Dominion has the same rights as anyone else including our self-righteous environmentalists, few of whom give a damn about small business and residential consumers. If the latter can give money, so can and should Dominion.

    A Pox on both their houses!

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think we’ve had a double standard for a while where it’s essentially no holds barred for Dominion and the Corps… who know have to navigate the rules to get the money to flow to where they want – and now that the enviros can generate a lot of money – there’s “outrage”…

    goose, gander?

    Pretty bad when a monopoly can throw money around willy nilly and a “flag” is thrown on Enviro’s doing a pale version of it…

    so all these years with Dom/Corps doing it – and now the line has been crossed?

    Oh Vey!

  8. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Uh, Larry – if you have any evidence that Dominion or any other corporation with an issue pending emailed 140 members of the General Assembly on their official accounts with a campaign donation offer in exchange for a specific action, or as a payback, either give it to the Post or the outlet of your choice. (I would if I caught them at that, but I know they would never be that sloppy.)

    Think about it this way – what an insult to those 140 men and women! Assuming that getting their support for either side is that simple, just a transaction, takes an incredibly low opinion of them. If this business were that simple you would not have seen the utility deploy a team of lobbyists, television, radio and digital advertising, a grassroots phone bank generating calls to the legislators, and their most difficult tactic to deal with – falsehoods – in support of that bill.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” Think about it this way – what an insult to those 140 men and women! Assuming that getting their support for either side is that simple, just a transaction, takes an incredibly low opinion of them.”

    wait a minute. Was it an “insult” when all that money was flowing BEFORE the enviros started doing their thing?

    I can’t tell if you are thoroughly tongue in cheek here or you really don’t see see the goose/gander issue.

    I think the enviros big sin was they told the truth about the purpose of the money while the Corporations continue this charade so as to not “insult” the sensibilities of those taking all that cash – for perfectly honorable purposes of course.

    Lord. Lord!!! I think you have been co-opted by the status quo folks!

  10. Acbar Avatar

    Thank you, TimS. The crux of it is exactly as you say: “Dominion Energy is a monopoly that these lawmakers are supposed to be keeping watch on. Dominion doesn’t play by free market rules and in exchange the worst parts of their greed are supposed to be reigned in by the legislature. Except they are paying them off!”

    Yes. The regulatory bargain is between the State and the utility: keep your monopoly, and accept State regulation over every way you might abuse that monopoly – level and transparency of rates, quality of service, non-discrimination, capital commitments, affiliated interests. Dominion has caused the GA to forbid the State’s expert utility regulators to regulate rates, or to ask questions about rate levels, and to freeze rates itself. This is a clear breach of the regulatory bargain.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      I fully agree, Acbar.

  11. TimShifflet Avatar

    Steve, the only major line that the “quid pro quo” crossed was calling things how they are in Richmond instead of hiding behind the murky pay to play system that has run our state for decades. I read the article in the Washington Post about this, if you can believe anything they write, and the quotes lawyers who said that there is no prohibition on this because it’s not about votes it’s about campaigns. Anyway, I appreciate at least them stepping up and saying clearly what their deal is instead of pretending Dominion’s millions are just charity. Give me a break!

  12. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Tim, I said in my piece that everybody who gave big bucks wanted a return and that is not charity. My initial reaction to this idea, back in the winter, was this is just as bad as what others were doing but I didn’t really think it worse (just wide open to counter attack, which happened.) I propose we start a serious discussion about reasonable contribution limits. If as some lawyers think this is just fine behavior, then we should change that, because it shouldn’t be.

    You, Larry and Dominion can all come testify against the bill. 🙂

  13. […] Virginia Fund, the political action committee that is trying to buy legislators’ loyalty away from regulated utilities, has filed its first report with the State Board of Elections.  […]

  14. […] an argument I have made before, Spanberger’s careful tiptoe through this minefield is additional evidence […]

  15. […] because I presume it shares the common misconception that while Dominion’s money is tainted, Clean Virginia’s is virtuous.  Both corrupt the […]

Leave a Reply