RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bipartisan effort to ban public utilities like Dominion Energy from making political donations was voted down in a Virginia Senate committee controlled by Democrats.
For years, state lawmakers have introduced bills to end or limit utilities’ ability to contribute to campaigns in Virginia.
One of main legislators behind the longtime push, state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), filed a measure for the 2022 legislative session to prohibit public utility companies from making contributions to state candidates, political action committees (PACs) and campaign committees.
A Republican, state Sen. Richard Stuart (King George), joined Petersen and introduced a similar bill that would have imposed a civil penalty for violators. Both lawmakers confirmed to 8News that Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s staff indicated he would sign the bill if it reached his desk.
When presenting their legislation to the Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee on Tuesday, Stuart said he filed his bill because Dominion Energy gave $200,000 to a secretive PAC attacking Youngkin during his campaign. Stuart claimed Dominion has “become too powerful in Richmond.”
Virginia’s two largest electric utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company, have donated millions to candidates since 2010. While Appalachian has doled out more than $4.2 million since then, Dominion is the state’s biggest corporate political donor and has contributed over $24 million in that span, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
Dominion Energy, the state’s largest regulated electric monopoly, has generally given Republicans and Democrats similar amounts of political donations throughout the years.
Sen. Petersen’s effort to ban utilities from giving political donations is nothing new. He has introduced measures that have been killed in committee for the last three years. Petersen has spoken out against utilities like Dominion Energy making excess profits as the General Assembly passed a favorable utility rate freeze law in 2015 that lasted until 2018.
Nine of the ten state senators who voted down Petersen’s bill last year received political donations from Dominion Energy, according to the VPAP. One of those lawmakers, State Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake), questioned whether Petersen’s motives were personal on Tuesday.
Sen. Spruill, whose top political donor is Dominion Energy, asked Petersen if has a “real hard-on against Dominion.” Petersen responded that has “no animosity” towards the utility.
Dominion Energy sent a representative from the McGuireWoods law firm to speak in opposition to the bill during the committee hearing. Representatives for Appalachian Power Company, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Washington Gas, Columbia Gas of Virginia and others also shared their objections to the bill.
The committee, which is made up of nine Democrats and six Republicans, killed Petersen’s bill on a 11-4 vote. A Republican bill in the House of Delegates is still alive, but the measure appears unlikely to pass the chamber.
Calls to overhaul Virginia’s campaign finance laws have been growing, but little has been done to advance changes. The commonwealth does not have contribution limits for political action committees, corporations or individuals donating to candidates. Virginia also allows party committees to donate unlimited amounts of money to campaigns.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.