Updates: Money, Power and Politics (Oh, My)

The following are updates on earlier Bacon’s Rebellion stories of mine.

Clean Virginia Files First Report

Clean 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.  Charlottesville financier and hedge fund magnate Michael D. Bills is the only donor, putting in $50,000.  Two senators and nine delegates, all Democrats, accepted a total of $32,500.  Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power donated a combined $175,000 during the same period so if this is really a bidding war, Clean Virginia has some catching up to do.

Hunton Andrews Kurth, the Richmond law and lobbying firm, is off to a slow start, giving only $23,000 on this report.  The firm drew notice for saying it would not support legislators who refused donations from its utility client.  Its largest check was to the Democratic Commonwealth Victory Fund, which supports both House and Senate candidates in that party.  (Dominion Energy gave to that, too.)

Somehow I don’t think any of the legislators who are refusing corporate or utility dollars will refuse help from that party committee. The check was probably to attend the Democrat’s annual event at the Homestead, where I’m sure all had a nice chin wag over the bar or on the golf course.

Dominion Energy Doubles Down on T1 Rider Taxes

Responding to an adverse recommendation from a State Corporation Commission hearing examiner, Dominion Energy has filed comments asking the full commission to ignore her opinion and make the customers pay too much.

Its first and most important argument is that the commission doesn’t have the authority to exercise discretion over the future transmission charges under rate adjustment clause T1.  It points to language in the 2007 statute that created this RAC and the whole system of RACs.  In the case of transmission costs under T1 the language says that any bill from regional transmission entity PJM is presumed to be reasonable and prudent.

This isn’t about the taxes, it’s about that language.  That “reasonable and prudent” presumption is even more frequent in the statute now, thanks to the 2018 legislation.  This is once again proof that Dominion inserts that phrase (and it writes these bills, no legislator does) to override the judgement of the SCC.  Those of us who worked on that 2007 statute never contemplated that Dominion would take advantage of that presumption to self-calculate its charge based on false information – in this case an erroneous tax rate.

If the SCC stands with its hearing examiner, expect the utility to take the battle back to the Virginia Supreme Court or back to its friendly legislators.  Once again, as it has been for more than a decade, the only real issue is will the legislature listen to the SCC or let the utility make it own laws and rules.

The AG Giveth, the AG Taketh Away

Attorney General Mark Herring has notably been a bit less predictable than many previous AG’s on the question of who his client is, if the state law or regulatory position he would normally defend was highly unpopular with various interest groups.

He earned praise in many circles recently for deciding to have his staff defend certain abortion-related regulations, but now has decided to not let his staff join in the appeal of a recent decision on legislative districts and the Voting Rights Act.  The Republican legislators seeking a delay on drawing a new map pending that appeal will need to fund their own legal efforts.

Political hypocrisy is always bad, but never worse than when the issue is redistricting.  The requirements of the Voting Rights Act are complicated and shift like the sands of the Sahara.  As I noted earlier, in 1991 we Republicans used it to our advantage to challenge the House plan, and over time it has provided benefit to the GOP.  Now the Democrats have a leg up with this recent ruling which orders new districts likely to help their chances.

The advantage being sought was and is political, partisan and not really about race.  There was no racial animus in 1991 and no racial animus in 2011 as districts were drawn to protect incumbents of both parties. (Years before, real racial animus was rampant.)  The evidence in this case is clear that black legislators on the Democratic side were consulted about their districts and often accommodated, and I can offer personal testimony from 1991 that self-interest and self-protection was the number one motive of everybody on both sides.

The term “racial gerrymandering” could apply to a district plan intended to limit the opportunity of members of a racial minority to win elections.  Wouldn’t it also apply, however, to a district plan intended to maximize that opportunity?  The Voting Rights Act, enacted as a remedy to historical racism, requires a form of racial gerrymandering and this most recent ruling reaffirms that the map must be drawn to determine a certain outcome – uh, that is gerrymandering.

The first question in 1991, 2001 and 2011 was what must be done to comply with the Voting Rights Act and nobody knowingly breaks it anymore.

The recent statement from Governor Northam, who while a state senator I assume voted for this House map, was obviously timed to coordinate with Herring’s announcement.  It was unfair but I guess standard fare.  What the state has been ordered to do, and Northam and Herring are eager to do for political gain, is to replace one racially-driven plan with a slightly different one.

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15 responses to “Updates: Money, Power and Politics (Oh, My)”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: “…Clean Virginia Fund, the political action committee that is trying to buy legislators’ loyalty away from regulated utilities”

    need to recognize that engaging in lobbying is 1/2 the equation. The front half is the motivation for engaging in the lobbying and comparing the motives of Clean Virginia to Dominion is amusing.

    As the remainder of the blog post does fairly show – Dominion is all about their financial bottom line – in all actions – including lobbying.

    Is Clean Virginia lobbying to improve their financial bottom line?

    What does Clean Virginia expect to receive as a result of trying to “buy” legislators – compared to what Dominion expects to receive by engaging in the same behavior?

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Good questions. Do you know what Mr. Bills wants? Are you sure he won’t call up some legislator who received $5 grand and exert pressure for something? My preference is to limit the money and thereby limit the corrupting impact of the money. Not to replace one cynic buying support with another one.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Is “Clean Virginia” trying to “buy” legislators or Mr. Bills? That’s an important distinction. Most Enviro groups use solicited donations to lobby. Some comes from small member type donations.. others from richer folks but again – in either case – is the intent of the money an investment to maintain/protect an existing or prospective financial interest?

    It’s pretty clear with most business lobbying but what are the financial interests of the advocacy lobbying groups? Do they have financial interests they are seeking to protect/enhance?

    Are all lobbying activities devoted to financial interests or is some of it more devoted to the “public” interest?

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Larry, Al Gore made tens of millions from Global Warming advocacy. How do you know that Michael D. Bills doesn’t have any financial interests in alternative energy or some other business/technology that would be benefited by Virginia adopting legislation that would likely be opposed by Dominion?

    And even if he doesn’t, he still wants to have his way on legislation the same as every other interest group. Lobbying is lobbying. Campaign contributions are campaign contributions.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Al Gore is NOT environmental lobbying by advocacy groups. What do those advocacy groups hope to gain – money-wise from their advocacy?

      and for that matter – please explain how Gore made money off his non-lobbying advocacy?

      The whole implication is bogus.

      Most environmental groups do NOT “profit” from their advocacies and those who donate to those groups don’t get their money back much less make a return on their “investments”.

      It’s a bogus narrative.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Larry – you didn’t answer my question. How do you know that Michael D. Bills doesn’t have any financial interests in alternative energy or some other business/technology that would be benefited by Virginia adopting legislation that would likely be opposed by Dominion?

        Here’s a Forbes’ article on Gore and his global warming money making. Blood And Gore: Making A Killing On Anti-Carbon Investment Hype. https://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2013/11/03/blood-and-gore-making-a-killing-on-anti-carbon-investment-hype/#32991b5332dc

        On redistricting, mass hypocrisy. The Democrats controlled the Virginia Senate when the current districts were proposed. And they too engaged in gerrymandering. But gerrymandering is wrong only when done by the GOP. If it were a real media company, we’d hear about this regularly from the Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda.

  4. djrippert Avatar

    If we can’t have an ethical government in Virginia we can at least allow for a level playing field of corruption. Even if Mr Bills has ulterior motives (which I doubt) he’s at least forcing the members of the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond to pick a side. He’s also keeping the appalling lack fo basic ethics in the news.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m all for limiting money in government .. it’s basically corruption BECAUSE for MOST of it – the goal of the money is to improve the financial bottom line of those who are spending that money.

    That’s simply not true of most if not all advocacy groups. The money does not go to increase their donors financial bottom line; it goes to support a cause they believe in. It may be a cause that others don’t agree with – but to characterize it as the same thing as for-profit businesses money is just not a valid equivalency.

  6. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I thought it would be the redistricting update that might spark people.

    Hey, Larry! Do the people building wind turbines make a profit? Are all those solar companies run for charity or do they have stockholders to feed? The whole $1 billion we Virginia ratepayers will now fork over for various “energy efficiency” programs, any green grease included in that for the vendors? You betcha. You think the environmental groups raise all that money in $10 increments? Your total clueless-ness is charming in a way, but dangerous. There is profit and greed all around, and those folks are just as capable as Dominion of using the legislature to squeeze the customer – especially when like this year they team up. There is very much a bottom line for all.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: clueless

      Nope.. not when a lot of these advocacy groups with member donations MUST disclose WHERE their money comes from as C3 non-profits… who support not their own profit-making business or even industry ventures but instead more broad-based advocacies like CLEAN AIR .. AND CLEAN Water , less toxics and less pesticides, less BPA, etc….

      There is no money is that kind of advocacy and I’ll agree the companies that make “clean” products probably do donate but they also directly contribute money and lobby to improve their own financial bottom lines.

      If you can show me that a majority of the money that these advocacy groups – actually comes from for-profit businesses…. I’ll give you a gold star.

      Otherwise – you’re just furthering a false narrative… most advocacy groups – say the SELC – are about policies – that reduce pollution and benefit people and the public interest – not increase profits for companies… even “turbine” companies.

      It’s a false narrative.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    No gold star. This is an “anti” group making claims they are not substantiating with facts – and beyond that where is the “profit” motive?

    You’re confusing people who do have money – giving it to causes they support and not expecting any return on their investment with folks who proffer money with an expectation that it will improve their financial bottom line downstream.

    They’re not the same thing.

    ” Our mission is to promote the transition to a sustainable energy future by advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy.
    Energy Foundation works to build a prosperous and healthy future powered by clean, reliable, and secure sources of energy. A thriving clean energy industry will help grow the economy, offer workers good jobs in viable industries, strengthen national security, and keep our air and water clean and healthy—for today’s children and future generations.

    A partnership of leading foundations launched Energy Foundation in 1991 and Energy Foundation China in 1999. Our primary role is as a grantmaker; pragmatic and nonpartisan, the foundation supports grantees who provide education and analysis to promote policy solutions that build markets for clean energy technology. We collaborate with these grantees, as well as with funding partners, allies, and others who believe that advancing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other solutions can open doors to greater innovation and productivity—growing the economy with dramatically less pollution. We’re making progress in the largest and fastest-growing energy markets in the world.”

    They’re not lobbying for individual businesses nor even particular industries. There is no expectation that they receive money in return for lobbying for businesses/industry.

    The motivation for their activities is entirely different than lobbyists from companies like Dominion.

  8. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    You’ll note I took it down, before I read your comment. Not enough detail. But challenge accepted. We really started just with this fellow in Charlottesville, Bills, funding this one group. I doubt I can find out what his Bluestem Asset Management is invested in, but I can try. (Somehow I don’t think coal and oil, but it’s a private firm so who knows?)

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      but the real point is – you (and others) make these accusations with precious little proof.

      Many of these groups are public advocacy, they have no real direct quid-pro-quo links to businesses or industries. They basically support CLEAN, less polluting, less resource consumptive POLICIES – not specific companies and industries per se.

      Yes they DO Lobby – but the motivation and expectations are totally different from companies and industries that lobby so they can make more money and more profits (and nothing wrong with that – but it’s not the same as public interest lobbying).

      When a foundation gives money to groups like this – they do not say ” we want you to help out Company X that makes turbines…or Company Y that wants to gut some law or regulation that is hindering their profits.

      You KNOW as a former Lobbyist that – that is EXACTLY what Dominion and other companies actually ARE lobbying for… the motives are entirely different!!!

  9. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    We are more than 50 years past the initial Voting Rights Act. We’ve seen substantial improvement in the number of blacks elected to office, including a President who won with white votes. Given Justice Thomas’ animosity towards racial quotas, it would be karma if Herring’s blatant politics on redistricting would wind up with SCOTUS tossing the redistricting provisions as violating the 14th Amendment in the Virginia case.

    Unless the courts are willing to put their finger on the scale to openly favor Democrats, once one permits racial gerrymandering, one must permit conservative gerrymandering.

  10. Larry would like to frame the debate so that the only people worth worrying about are those who profit from engagement with government. We definitely need to keep tabs on entities that use the power of government to line their pockets or tilt the playing field in their favor. But I’ll tell you who worries me every bit as much — the crusaders, and zealots and social justice warriors seeking power to impose their values over upon, and control the lives of, others. Their motive isn’t greed — in their minds, their motives are pure. But the crusaders and zealots using the power of government to impose their will have caused massive bloodshed and carnage and misery in countries where they seized untrammeled power, and massive negative unintended consequences and social disruption in the United States where, thanks to checks and balances, they can gain only limited power.

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