Home 2014 Races How “Absolutely” Turns Into Something Else in Our Screwed-Up Virginia Campaign Finance...

How “Absolutely” Turns Into Something Else in Our Screwed-Up Virginia Campaign Finance System

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The following post is not meant to bash Patrick Hope, because frankly this could – and I’m sure has! – happened to any politician or elected official in Virginia. So here’s what happened.

In 2009, when Patrick Hope was first running for the 47th House of Delegates district seat, I interviewed the candidates – including Hope. I asked, “will you pledge to take no money from Dominion Power or other companies that act in ways that harm workers, the environment, etc?” Hope’s answer was one definitive word: “Absolutely.” But can “absolutely” hold up in our screwed-up system here in Virginia for raising campaign finances? Here’s another one-word answer: NO!

In Hope’s case, VPAP shows that he has received $7,000 from Dominion Power since 2009, making Dominion his third largest donor. So, clearly, “absolutely” didn’t turn out to be the case. Why not? I received a response to my email about this almost immediately from Hope, which of course is a positive reflection on Hope and his campaign. Here it is:

The only company I refuse to accept money from is Altria and other Big Tobacco.  I changed my mind about Dominion Power specifically because I’ve used these campaign events as opportunities to sit down with them to discuss the importance of investing more in renewable energy.  I’ve even had an executive from Dominion come to Arlington to meet with my constituents to talk about specific ideas to reduce our reliance on coal.  I’ve used their campaign contributions to help elect progressive candidates who share my view on protecting the environment and conserving energy.

That’s a good and fair answer, totally reasonable. I also received another email from his campaign noting that “there was a lot of pressure inside the Democratic Caucus to accept those contributions so they could be directed to other Democratic candidates,” and that “that’s where Patrick has spent the bulk of the money raised in the House account.” Again, fair and reasonable. So what’s the problem, then?

Here’s the bottom line: in our anything-goes, sky’s-the-limit, corporations-uber-alles Virginia campaign finance system, the pressure is on: a) corporations to give money to candidates and electeds to try to gain access to/influence with those people; and b) the party’s caucuses and candidates to accept that money, because given that there’s no public financing of campaigns in Virginia, you need that money if you ever want to get reelected. That’s how you end up with a strong progressive like Patrick Hope, pledging what were undoubtedly good intentions back in 2009 to not take money from bad corporate actors like Dominion, Altria, etc., basically having no choice but to take money from some or all of these companies.

And that’s the (absurd) choice it essentially boils down to for candidates and electeds: either take money from NONE of the corporations or individuals you consider to be “bad;” or take it from ALL of them and use it to help elect progressives/Democrats; or take it from SOME “bad” corporations/individuals but not others. Which is where I guess my biggest disagreement is with Patrick Hope on this one, in that I see Dominion Power as just as bad, if not worse, than Altria. Not that Altria has any redeeming qualities, to put it mildly – they are evil incarnate, basically But Dominion, in my view, is just as bad, essentially doing whatever it can to contribute to trashing the planet and delay/prevent clean energy from taking off in Virginia.

So, obviously, while it would be ideal if our politicians didn’t take money from either Dominion or Altria (or a bunch of other “bad” corporations), the question then becomes, who’s going to step up to the plate and replace that forgone money? The “good guys” (e.g., enviro groups)? Good luck with that. I mean, do they have even CLOSE to the type of money to throw around that the “bad guys” do? Highly doubtful, bordering on ZERO chance of that.

All of which leads us back yet again to our broken system — one in which Dominion Power has given $8 million since 2000 to both Democrats (including thousands to 8th CD Democratic candidates like Don Beyer,  Charniele Herring, Adam Ebbin, and Alfonso Lopez) and Republicans – and the desperate need to change it. But good luck doing that when you’ve got people like Bill “ALEC” Howell and Dick “We don’t need no stinkin’ ethics law!” Saslaw in charge.

In sum, will this system change? Unlikely. Does this system need to change? “Absolutely!”

  • demomatic

    Someone recently asked me “whatever happened to Bob Hull?” and I went back and read the Blue Virginia posts analyzing the primary. Kaye Kory also pledged to not accept money from Dominion. Low and behold! She’s taken thousands since becoming a delegate. This seems to be quite a typical pledge to break. Sad story.

  • From Sen. Chap Petersen to Gov. Terry McAuliffe. I’d actually go much further, but as they say, politics is the art of the possible. Also, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good…

  • jack hughes

    There is an enormous difference between Dominion and Altria/Philip Morris USA and other big tobacco.

    Love ’em or hate ’em, Dominion and their core business — provision of electricity throughout 2/3 of Virginia — is essential to the health, welfare, and prosperity of the state. Electricity is a lifeline and economic linchpin. Dominion is a powerful entity and frequent adversary of progressives but one with whom legislators must negotiate, badger, lean on, and occasionally support because their product is valuable. Yes, electric power can and should be made more cleanly, and Dominion has a long way to go toward reasonable policies, but they cannot be ignored. They must be at the table; that is good politics.

    Big Tobacco is a declining industry of little productive use to society, with apologies to its employees and suppliers.