Who Funded Voter Suppression in Rural Virginia?

by James A. Bacon

It caused quite the brouhaha when Axios published a story in September on how a Democratic PAC posed as a conservative outfit to depress Republican voter turnout in Southwest Virginia by raising questions about Glenn Youngkin’s commitment to gun rights. Dominion Energy had donated $200,000 to the effort, run by Accountability Virginia PAC. Two days after the news broke Dominion said it had failed to vet the group and wanted its money back. The furor died down, and little has been heard of it since. Until today.

Duane Yancey with Cardinal News checked the final filings for the  Accountability Virginia PAC, which weren’t reported until after the election. It turns out that Dominion had donated a total of $250,000 — $50,000 more than originally reported — while four Dominion executives had chipped in another $27,500. Between the corporation and its executives, Dominion accounted for 47.9% of the PAC’s total contributions.

There is no indication, says Yancey, that they got their money back.

Almost all the other donors were out-of-state venture capitalists and financiers known to be donors to Democratic politics. Read Yancey’s list for the full accounting, as well as his spin on the news: “Trying to discourage people from voting is wrong, no matter which side is trying to do it.”

It is possible that the blowback against Dominion has just begun.

Democratic Senator Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and Delegate Lee Ware, R-Powhatan, held a press conference today announcing that they would introduce bills banning regulated utility monopolies from donating to political campaigns.

“Virginians pay the price for Dominion Energy’s pay-to-play political influence. The monopoly has successfully lobbied for bills that cost customers nearly $1 billion in overcharges,” Petersen said in a press conference. “Both parties have a historic opportunity to do right by all Virginians and finally end this blatant corruption.”

Unhappiness with Dominion’s influence in politics is nothing new. Clean Virginia promised donations to any candidate who committed not to take any Dominion money, and dozens of candidates took up the offer. But Dominion spread the money around to both parties, and the public didn’t seem to care as long as the utility limited itself to buying influence in utility-related matters.

The Virginia Accountability episode smells very different. The PAC’s ad campaign targeted gun rights, not utility issues. The goal was to suppress voter turnout and help Terry McAuliffe win. This was partisan.

It’s possible that many Republican senators and delegates will be happy to continue taking Dominion money. But I would expect some to think twice — $275,500 is a lot of dough, even for Dominion. (According to the Virginia Public Access Project, the corporation, not including executives, contributed $8.5 million in 2020-21.)

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Combine the Accountability Virginia gaffe with Dominion’s push to spend billions of dollars to build a zero-carbon electric grid. GOP legislators, you may recall, are inclined to believe climate change is hyped, that zero-carbon by 2050 is an arbitrary goal, and that consumers are getting the shaft. Now Dominion and its top executives are shoveling money to a partisan PAC?

Traditionally, Republicans have resisted caps on campaign donations. Now that Dominion appears to have chosen sides — the other side — don’t be surprised if that laissez-faire attitude changes.