Energy and Policy Institute: November 14, 2019

Dominion Energy spent record-breaking sum in Virginia election to bolster embattled Republicans and legislative allies

By Kelly Roache, Energy and Policy Institute

Dominion Energy gave over $1.8 million in political contributions to Virginia candidates, officials, and committees between 2018-2019 – more than it has spent in the Commonwealth in any previous two-year reporting period, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. The utility also continued its tactic of bundling political giving with that of its executives. The ten highest-giving Dominion employees and retirees contributed an additional $355,000.

With partisan control of both chambers of the legislature at stake, Dominion made contributions to candidates in 12 battleground races, siding with incumbent or incumbent-endorsed Republicans in all but one. Opponents in eight of the races had signed a pledge to refuse contributions from Dominion originated by Activate Virginia, an activist group seeking to make Virginia politics more democratic and elect Democrats.

If the goal of Dominion’s support for Republicans in battleground races was to prevent a Democratic takeover of the Commonwealth, the utility failed. Five of the seven swing contests in which Dominion and its executives spent the most flipped to Democratic control; three of the Democrats who won in those races pledged to reject Dominion money.

However, Dominion hedged its overall spending across party lines, giving approximately $950,000 to Democrats and $870,000 to Republicans. The utility’s bipartisan contributions included five-figure handouts to several loyal legislative allies who ran unopposed.

Accounting for donations from its PACs, CEO Thomas Farrell, and registered lobbyists, Dominion spent more than $2.6 million on General Assembly races in Virginia, according to Clean Virginia, a group supporting renewable energy and clean government. Despite the unprecedented political giving, nearly 50 members of Virginia’s new legislature have signed the pledge eschewing utility dollars, including the winners of all seven Democratic pickups in the Senate and House of Delegates, which secured Democratic party control of both chambers for the first time in more than 20 years. The Democratic Party of Virginia announced in September it would no longer accept contributions from Dominion, though it acknowledged that it could not dictate that any individual member not accept utility money.

Dominion VA Political Spending Outpaced All Previous Years – As Coordinated Executive Contributions Buoyed Influence

Dominion’s political giving in this Virginia election cycle surpassed that in the past two comparable periods by about half a million dollars. The utility increased its total contributions in 2018-2019 by at least 35% over any other two-year period this decade.

Dominion Energy Political Spending in Virginia, 2010-2019

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Moreover, Dominion reprised its campaign finance “bundling” strategy exposed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2017, in which a candidate or committee receives both Dominion corporate contributions and others from utility-affiliated individuals, often within a short period of time or even on the same day. Dominion CEO Tom Farrell contributed more than $175,000 in 2018-2019, more than in any comparable period this decade. He is among the 10 highest-giving Dominion employees or retirees this election cycle, who in aggregate contributed a total of almost $355,000 in Virginia races – a roughly 20% boost on top of Dominion’s corporate political giving.

In one example of contribution bundling, over four days in June 2019, six Dominion executives gave a total of $4,500 to embattled Sen. Glen Sturtevant (R-10), accompanied by a roughly $250 in-kind contribution from the utility. For voting consistently with Dominion’s interests, Sturtevant received an “F” grade from the Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter on consecutive 2018-2019 climate and energy scorecards. The utility would spend over $53,000 on his unsuccessful re-election bid – augmented by $23,500 in further contributions from the company’s 10 highest-giving employees and retirees.

Dominion Corporate, Employee, and Retiree Contributions to VA Sen. Glen Sturtevant (R-10), June 23-26, 2019

Date Donor Name + Title Contribution Amount
June 23 Diane Leopold – EVP + President/CEO, Gas Infrastructure Group $1,000
June 24 Bob Blue – EVP + President/CEO, Power Delivery Group $1,000
June 25 Bill Murray – SVP, Corporate Affairs/Communications $500
June 25 Dominion Energy (in-kind) $248
June 26 Carter Reid – EVP + Chief Administrative/Compliance Officer $500
June 26 Mark Webb – SVP + Chief Innovation Officer $500
June 26 Paul Koonce – EVP + President/CEO, Power Generation Group $1,000
TOTAL $4,748

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

In Battleground Races, Dominion Doubled Down on Republicans

Dominion made political contributions in 12 of Virginia’s most contentious legislative races – and in 11 of these, it supported incumbent or incumbent-endorsed Republicans. The utility gave more than $265,000 to these candidates, accompanied by another nearly $100,000 from Dominion’s 10 highest-giving employees and retirees. Eight of the challengers to these Dominion-supported candidates had signed the pledge to reject utility dollars.

Dominion invested heavily in the re-election effort for Del. Kirk Cox (R-66), who was Speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates and a loyal Dominion ally. Over his legislative career, Cox has accepted nearly $375,000 from the company. Challenged by a Democratic opponent who signed the pledge refusing utility contributions, Cox took in $70,000 in Dominion corporate and executive giving, including a $7,500 check from CEO Tom Farrell. Cox held his seat by a narrow margin.

Dominion’s battleground spending produced tepid results, as only two of its candidates in the seven swing districts where it spent the most won their races.

Dominion Corporate, Employee, and Retiree Contributions in VA Battleground Races, 2018-2019

Candidate District Total from Dominion Total from Employees/Retirees Combined Total Career Total from Dominion Opponent Signed Pledge Outcome
Glen Sturtevant* (R) SD 10 $53,248 $23,500 $76,748 $59,748 Flipped
Kirk Cox* (R) HD 66 $55,000 $15,000 $70,000 $374,177 x Held
Siobhan Dunnavant* (R) SD 12 $48,500 $13,750 $62,250 $57,000 x Held
Tim Hugo* (R) HD 40 $28,688 $4,000 $32,688 $102,707 x Flipped
Chris Jones* (R) HD 76 $6,000 $21,500 $27,500 $41,432 x Flipped
David Yancey* (R) HD 94 $9,500 $12,800 $22,300 $22,657 Flipped
Chris Stolle* (R) HD 83 $17,500 $2,000 $19,500 $27,000 x Flipped
Bill DeSteph* (R) SD 8 $9,550 $6,500 $16,050 $17,050 Held
George Barker* (D) SD 39 $16,000 $0 $16,000 $32,227 Held
Roxann Robinson* (R) HD 27 $9,500 $0 $9,500 $18,000 x Held
Bryce Reeves* (R) SD 17 $8,500 $0 $8,500 $25,575 x Held
Jen Kiggans (R) SD 7 $5,000 $0 $5,000 $5,000 x Held
TOTAL $266,986 $99,050 $366,036 $465,086

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

While it did not preserve Republican control, some of Dominion’s spending may have affected close outcomes. Dominion and its current and retired executives gave over $62,000 to Siobhan Dunnavant, who held off her Democratic challenger Debra Rodman, a signer of the pledge not to accept Dominion money, by less than 1,400 votes out of nearly 80,000 cast.

Dominion Hedged Bets through Bipartisan Giving

Despite Dominion’s bias toward Republicans in key swing races, the utility divided its overall contributions relatively evenly across party lines – a hedge against the likelihood of Democrats gaining legislative control. Including contributions from its 10 highest-giving employees and retirees, Dominion gave more than $1,060,000 to Republicans and nearly $1,105,000 to Democrats statewide. Top executive giving mirrored corporate donations’ balanced split across parties.

In particular, Dominion gave heavily to both parties’ leadership committees. The House Republican Campaign Committee and House Democratic Caucus received $110,000 and $124,000 from the utility, respectively. The Senate Republican Caucus took in $85,000, and its Democratic analog $125,000.

Notably, new Speaker of the House of Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) received $3,750 in contributions from Bill Murray, Dominion Senior Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Communications – the most he gave to any individual candidate this election cycle. Filler-Corn has accepted $15,000 in corporate contributions from Dominion while in the legislature.

Dominion also gave $640,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) and more than $387,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), both national groups which have contributed heavily to Virginia candidates in this election. The RSLC spent more than $3 million in the state this year, the largest donor to Virginia Republicans. Farrell contributed another $25,000 to the committee. Dominion’s giving to each group was the utility’s largest in more than a decade, as reported by the Associated Press.

Dominion Corporate, Employee, and Retiree Contributions in VA by Party, 2018-2019

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Under Guise of Election, Dominion Funneled Unrestricted Cash to Legislative Allies

In the lead-up to this election, Dominion and its executives also gave heavily to some of its most loyal legislative allies – all of whom ran unopposed. Virginia’s lax campaign finance laws permit candidates to pilfer campaign funds for personal use, rendering Dominion’s contributions to friendly lawmakers virtually unrestricted.

Dominion is the top career donor to powerful Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-35), Del. Terry Kilgore (R-1), and Del. Lamont Bagby (D-74), who also chairs the Legislative Black Caucus. Saslaw and Kilgore have received over $400,000 and $200,000 from the utility, respectively. Including contributions from the 10 highest-giving Dominion employees and retirees, Saslaw took in $93,000 from the utility and its executives this election cycle, followed by Kilgore’s $40,000 and Bagby’s $28,500. Farrell himself contributed $12,500 to Saslaw and $2,000 to Bagby.

Saslaw, who has earned the moniker “Dominion Dick” from his opponents, boasts a 40-year record of carrying water for the utility. Bagby was exposed for co-patroning a Dominion bill, after his non-profit received five- and six-figure donations from Dominion and Farrell, by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Kilgore is a long-time patron of Dominion legislation.

Dominion Corporate, Employee, and Retiree Contributions to VA Legislative Allies, 2018-2019

Candidate District Total from Dominion Total from Employees/Retirees Combined Total Career Total from Dominion
Dick Saslaw* (D) SD 35 $72,500 $20,500 $93,000 $400,508
Terry Kilgore* (R) HD 1 $40,000 $0 $40,000 $213,391
Lamont Bagby* (D) HD 74 $22,500 $6,000 $28,500 $26,500
TOTAL $135,000 $26,500 $161,500 $640,399

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

All cited data are accurate as of the time of publishing, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.