Curbing Utility Monopolies’ Political Influence
Clean Government

UPDATE: This bill never received a fair hearing in the House of Delegates despite weeks of public outcry. Stay tuned for campaign finance reform in 2021.

The Public Utility Campaign Contributions Ban

What problem does this bill address? 

Virginia has some of the weakest campaign finance laws in the country. Public utilities, including utility monopolies like Dominion Energy, can donate large sums of money to members of the General Assembly who regulate them. When these public utilities donate to elected officials and their political committees, it causes a conflict of interest and erodes the public trust in Virginia’s political system. Dominion Energy is the largest corporate donor to Virginia’s General Assembly and its heavy political spending has contributed to the passage of legislation highly favorable to the utility at the expense of its captive customers.

What does this bill do to fix that problem? 

The Public Utility Campaign Contributions Ban prohibits candidates, campaign committees, political party committees, political action committees (PACs), and other political committees from accepting donations from utility monopolies, defined as public utilities that provide gas, electric, water, or sewer services. It would also ban these committees from accepting contributions from any affiliate of a utility monopoly, as well as any PACs created by a utility or its affiliates.

What counts as a public utility?

Public utilities are charged with delivering vital public services in Virginia. As a result, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission and the General Assembly heavily regulate them. The Virginia Code defines public utilities to include telephone, gas, electric, water, and sewer companies. This legislation, however, only applies to public utilities that are strictly regulated as monopolies: gas, electric, water, and sewer companies.

Does a ban on political spending from public utilities already exist? 

Under federal law, corporations are banned from contributing to candidates, and states have the ability to further regulate contributions in their campaign finance laws. 28 states currently ban these kinds of contributions in some form — with 22 states banning corporate contributions altogether, but not Virginia.

This bill is being introduced in the House as HB 111.