Home Virginia Politics Anti-Science Dominion Power, Altria “Greenwash”/Whitewash Themselves with Support for Science Museum of...

Anti-Science Dominion Power, Altria “Greenwash”/Whitewash Themselves with Support for Science Museum of Virginia


The story of fossil fuel interests and climate science deniers “greenwashing” their despicable behavior by throwing their money at science museums is almost a cliche by now. For instance, see Museum Trustee, a Trump Donor, Supports Groups That Deny Climate Change, Koch brother resigns from museum board after calls from scientists, That Time Mickey Mouse and Goofy Shilled for Exxon at Disney World, Science Museums Cutting Financial Ties to Fossil Fuel Industry (“Chicago’s Field Museum joins several others in divesting its industry holdings, and the London Science Museum drops Shell sponsorship.”), Scientists Call On Smithsonian And Other Museums To Reject Fossil Fuel Funding, etc, etc.

Seriously, I could go on all day, as this is what the fossil fuel industry does – spends big $$$ to cover their tracks by pretending to be good corporate citizens, stewards of the environment, yada yada, when of course they are nothing of the sort.

In the case of Dominion Virginia Power, of course, this company is horrendous on almost every level when it comes to the environment and moving to clean energy. For instance, see New Report Finds that ALEC, Dominion, Other “Corporate Polluters Undermining Clean Power in Virginia”, which Dominion – and tobacco/cigarrett company Altria (nee, Philip Morris), among others – are sponsors of ALEC, a group which “helps large polluters in our state work behind the scenes to draft legislation to block action on climate change, pollution and in favor of clean energy,” attack the Clean Power Plan, and even promote climate science denial (as if that’s not bad enough, note that Dominion itself sponsors an anti-clean-energy, pro-fossil-fuels climate-science-denying blog; read more about that here!).

Of course, when it comes to Dominion, it’s not just the corporation, it’s some of the most powerful individuals in that corporation (hey, Romney said that “corporations ARE people,” right? LOL). For instance, check out the tweet below by David Botkins, Dominion’s Director of Media Relations, about being “at dinner” with “Virginia gentleman” Ralph Northam Saturday night. Of course, what Botkins doesn’t mention is that this was not a private dinner with Ralph Northam in any way/shape/form, but instead a major event – with hundreds of attendees – at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond.

Now, before we go any further, let me just make it absolutely clear that although it makes me queasy, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the Science Museum of Virginia (or any other science museum) raising money from individuals and corporations, perhaps not even nasty, science-denying ones like Dominion Power (or Altria, which for many years spent shit-tons of money to deny any connection between their product, cigarettes, and lung cancer, despite enormous/overwhelming scientific evidence regarding that connection; just like climate science deniers today).

There’s (possibly) nothing wrong with that under one condition: that there is a total, impenetrable firewall between the museum’s programming and their funders’ economic interests. In the case of the Science Museum of Virginia, I haven’t found any evidence – although note that I haven’t spent hours looking, either; just a cursory search of the museum’s website – that their sponsorship by Dominion (or Altria, for that matter) has resulted in science denial, so that’s good at least. But again, it makes me nervous – and I’d strongly argue should make all of us nervous – to see corporations, particularly bad actors like Dominion and Altria, trying to greenwash/whitewash themselves by funding admired institutions like the Smithsonian, Science Museum of Virginia, etc.

Which brings us back to Dominion hack/flack David Botkins’ tweet about attending the Science Museum of Virginia’s swanky Illumination Gala fundraiser this past Saturday night, where he apparently ran into Ralph Northam, whose campaign has confirmed to me that he attended the same event, following a family wedding – separately, not with Botkins, just to be 100% clear.

For a bit of background on Botkins, check out this October 2013 post, which reported on Botkins’ tweet, “Government shutdown? Lock the door and throw away the key.” Yep, Dominion Power’s comms guy is a far-right wingnut, who by the way used to work for fellow right wingers like George Allen (director of communications, 1994-1998) and Mark Earley (press secretary, 2001).  Also check out this article, in which Botkins argues that it’s perfectly fine for Dominion Power (theoretically a state-regulated monopoly) to essentially purchase our state government, including working to “capture” Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, which of course theoretically has power over Dominion. So that’s who we’re dealing with here, and that’s who was a the Science Museum of Virginia’s “Illumination Gala” fundraiser Saturday night.

By the way, that event wasn’t cheap, which is probably why it was filled with folks from wealthy corporations like Dominion Power, Altria, etc.

Also note who’s on the Board of Trustees for the Science Museum of Virginia — yep, our pal David Botkins, who actually chairs the Board! Getting uncomfortable yet?

And check out some of the top donors to the Science Museum of Virginia, including Altria, Dominion and Botkins personally.

So…again, does any of this make you a bit uneasy, if not about the Science Museum of Virginia than about the slimy cesspool of (legalized) corruption euphemistically known as the “Virginia Way?” If not, why not?

  • rva

    Yes this is disturbing. When major media gave about 6 minutes total last year on climate change, science museums have a huge opportunity and responsibility too. Even their list of benefits for the gala is eye-boggling, like they’re willing to sell themselves, along with that most of it is tax-deductible. Dominion seems to always be on the list of friendly sponsors, with projects on the James river and school farms. All hail our overlords that also fund our state politicians. We are members of SMV, live close by, love science, and rarely go. Next time we go I will be looking closer at the exhibits to see if the corporate influence is why they’re not as interesting as they should be.

  • Science Museum Member

    As a member of the Science Museum of Virginia (not the “Virginia Science Center”) I can personally confirm that the museum’s programming has never been affected by the membership of their board of trustees. The reality of running a state-funded museum is that wealthy private benefactors are a fact of life in maintaining operation. Do exorbitant donations make up for laissez faire attitudes and actions against the environment? Absolutely not, but I do think it is unfair to drag the Science Museum of Virginia through the muck for fundraising just like any other not-for-profit organization must. Anyone who has attended the Science Museum in the last 10 years knows that their programming leans heavily into addressing climate change as a man-made phenomenon and educates guests on how to lessen their negative impact on the environment.

    • I fixed the name, thanks. As for influence on the museum’s programming, I made it clear in the piece that there doesn’t seem to be any.