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Democratic Party Accepts $200k from Clean Energy Donor After Forgoing Dominion

Virginia State Capitol
Virginia State Capitol (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

Charlottesville mega-donor and clean energy advocate Michael Bills donated $200,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia on Tuesday, weeks after the party announced it would no longer accept contributions from Dominion Energy.

Bills and other Dominion critics say the energy monopoly's largesse, combined with Virginia’s lax campaign finance laws, allow it to write its own regulations.

The former Goldman Sachs vice president has personally given over $3 million to candidates, with the bulk of the donations occurring after 2016. His Clean Virginia Fund has given another roughly $350,000 to candidates who agree to foreswear donations from Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power; 40 lawmakers have signed on to its pledge.

Last month, the Democratic Party followed suit. Virginia Party Chair Susan Swecker told the blog, Blue Virginia, that the decision would help broaden the party’s appeal, even as some candidates continued to take in Dominion dollars.

“We’re a different entity and we have a different constituency,” Swecker said told the blog. “We are constantly looking for ways to broaden our camp.”

In a statement, Bills seemed to tie his donation to the party’s announcement.

“The Democratic Party of Virginia has heard from Virginians loud and clear — money from utility monopolies like Dominion Energy doesn’t belong in our politics,” he said.

A party spokesman declined to comment on Bills' donation. 

Dominion Energy spokesman Rayhan Daudani defended the company's contributions and lobbying. 

“We advocate for clean, reliable, affordable energy on a bipartisan, transparent basis on behalf of the 15,000 Virginians who work as employees or contractors for our company and the customers that we serve,” Daudani said. “We do not know how many Virginians Mr. Bills employs.”

The DPVA hasn’t accepted a check from Dominion since September 2017. But other Democratic fundraising arms continue to accept the company’s donations, including the House and Senate caucuses; the Commonwealth Victory Fund; and political action committees for Gov. Ralph Northam and Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax). Collectively those groups have taken in over $110,000 from Dominion so far this year.

Critics say those political action committees allow the company’s contributions to flow to candidates who have disavowed Dominion contributions.

Disavowing Dominion's donations have become a litmus test for many Democrats, with over two-thirds of candidates saying they won't take the company's money, according to a list maintained by the activist group Activate Virginia


Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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