This content is sponsored by Clean Virginia.
Virginians pay the sixth highest electric bills in the country according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While the legislature has the power to address the rising cost of electricity, utility monopolies have influenced lawmakers, particularly through campaign donations, to keep prices high.
Campaign finance reports released in January show that in 2020 Dominion Energy gave a total of $1.3 million to lawmakers, making it the largest political donor in Virginia last year. Previous analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) found that while most political action committee (PAC) giving was down last year, Dominion was one of only a handful to increase its political giving in Virginia when compared to 2018, the last off-cycle year. In fact, last year Dominion Energy more than tripled the $400,000 of campaign donations it gave in 2018.
“Virginians ultimately pay the price when Dominion Energy uses its political giving to manipulate policy in its favor. Legislation that will stop public utility monopolies from contributing to the political campaigns of the representatives who are responsible for their regulation needs wide support,” Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore said. “Dominion Energy took full advantage of Virginia’s lax rules regarding political giving during a special legislative session in order to bend the legislative process to its will. While lawmakers were denying customers refunds from the half a billion dollars that Dominion Energy has overcharged Virginians since 2017, they were lining their campaign coffers with Dominion money.”
Fundraising is illegal in Virginia during regular General Assembly (GA) sessions. However, it is legal during special sessions, which historically have been brief and singular in their focus. Last year, Virginia’s legislature convened for an emergency special session that was a historic first in that it was run very similarly to a regular session and lasted longer than both Virginia’s short (six week) and long (eight week) regular sessions. During this session, Dominion gave $210,500 to members of the General Assembly. Although these contributions were legal, there is a reason fundraising is banned during regular sessions – to limit the degree to which large corporations and donors are able to influence policy that impacts them. But examining Dominion’s 2020 giving indicates an intent to do just that.
Dominion followed its special session giving with another large round of contributions prior to the 2021 General Assembly session, during which lawmakers reviewed legislation that would affect Dominion’s upcoming rate case, had the bills passed. Instead, eight state senators sitting on the Commerce & Labor committee voted not to advance any of the five bills that would have given regulators the ability to set fair and reasonable electric rates. Combined, those eight senators alone have received more than $1.2 million from Dominion throughout their careers.
Clean Virginia is calling for major changes to how the state manages its utilities, advocating for putting control back in the hands of residents and communities. You can be a part of the solution by visiting CleanVirginia.org and joining the movement for energy and good governance reform.