Home 2017 Races Northam & Perriello, Pipeline & Dominion: The Money-Power Problem on the Ballot

Northam & Perriello, Pipeline & Dominion: The Money-Power Problem on the Ballot


On Thursday evening, I accompanied my wife, April Moore, to an event being held by Harrisonburg Indivisible. The event was an “educational forum” in which advocates of the two candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor in the upcoming (6/13) primary were to present the case for their preferred candidate. April was there representing the Perriello campaign.

During the Q & A following the presentations, one of the people in the audience spoke up. After saying that he liked Northam, and that he still thought it likely that he’d vote for him, he indicated that he was somewhat undecided because of a substantive phone conversation he’d had with Northam.

The subject of that conversation was the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, and several times, in his remarks, this gentleman used the word “disappointed” to describe his feelings about Northam’s position. He was disappointed because he wanted Northam to come out against the pipelines, as Tom Perriello has done.

Northam seemed evasive, like his reasons didn’t satisfactorily explain his position. Northam maintained that the pipeline was a federal issue, and that there was nothing a Virginia governor could do about it anyway—whereas, in fact, the governor’s control over whether or not to issue water permits could be used to stop this pipeline project in its tracks.

April responded to this gentleman’s pipeline concern by articulating  good reasons for opposing the pipeline (as Perriello does): 1) it’s bad for the land (entailing as it does mountaintop removal across a 38-mile stretch); 2) it’s bad for the property owners (which is why the pipeline is so unpopular in this western part of the state); and 3) it’s bad in terms of climate change (which is the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced, and which is also the issue that April feels most passionate about).

But April felt unsettled about how she’d handled the issue—that something was missing. In the middle of the night, she woke up stewing about it. Then it came to her.

It’s obvious, she thought: Northam’s position on the pipeline makes sense in the light of another issue April had raised in that Indivisible Forum: the issue of the corrupting influence of money in Virginia politics, and in particular the way Dominion Power – by far the largest campaign donor to Virginia politicians – has bought influence.

The reason Northam supports the pipeline, despite its being such a bad idea, April realized, must be his long-standing connection with Dominion, which owns one of those pipelines.

Northam – who has received over $100,000 in Dominion money over the years– has refused to join with the movement of Virginia candidates refusing Dominion money so as to move toward a government that serves the public interest and not this giant monopoly.

Perriello, meanwhile, has been a leader of that movement, and has sworn not to accept any money from Dominion.

At that Indivisibile forum, April had gone out of her way to avoid speaking critically of Northam. She was concerned to avoid divisiveness. But there in the middle of the night, she wished that she’d spoken out about why Northam would back this bad pipeline idea: Northam’s position on the pipeline is a manifestation of a most serious chronic problem in Virginia politics—the betrayal of the public interest by our money-soaked politics.

A piece of Northam, in other words, has been bought.

To say that a piece of Northam has been bought, though it sounds harsh, is not to damn him.

For one thing, regrettably, Northam is more typical in this than exceptional. It is clear from the laws that have been passed that the majority of members of the General Assembly have sold a piece of themselves to this huge political force. In doing Dominion’s bidding on the pipeline, for example, Northam is no different from, say, Governor McAulliffe.

And just as McAulliffe has done good things as governor, while going along with the money system as he found it, one would expect a Governor Northam – a humane and caring man, from what one hears – would do a lot of good things.

Some leaders adapt to the corruption in the system, as they find it. And if they are good people, they try to do good in those areas where the interests of the corruptors are not at stake.

Others decide that redeeming that system from the corruptions that pervert our government is one essential good thing they are called to do.

So we must ask ourselves: how high a priority should be placed on this particular issue? That would depend, in part, on the question: how corrupt is the Virginia system?

An answer: Because of the free play of money in our politics, Virginia ranks 47th of the 50 states in its “public integrity.”

And nowhere is that lack of “public integrity” more visible than in the case of Dominion– a monopoly over a necessity, which is supposed to be regulated by the people’s representatives , but which, in Virginia, quite visibly gets to regulate the regulators. Again and again, Virginia legislators and officials (of both parties) have done the bidding of Dominion, at the expense of the people.*

So, with the clear difference between the candidates visible here regarding the influence of Dominion’s money power, one of the issues on the ballot will be whether Virginia’s present money- corrupted system will be maintained or challenged.

And this particular issue — whether money or people will govern our state — is not a small one.

Not only does our ranking 47th out of 50 states make painfully clear how serious a problem Virginia has. But also, this Virginia version of the issue of whether the Money Power will be challenged is the local form of the larger and quite urgent national challenge to American democracy: will the American people have the awareness and civic passion to take back the power that plutocratic forces – like the Koch Brothers, and those who gave us the Citizens United decision — have stolen from them in recent decades.

How much will this be a government for and by the people, and how much only a government of them?

So the choice in this primary election – between one who takes from Dominion and one who refuses to, one who supports Dominion’s pipeline, and one who seeks to block it — gives Virginia Democrats the opportunity to engage that battle.

That’s one reason why I’m supporting the guy who is issuing a Declaration of Independence from the empire whose money corrupts so much of our state’s government.  And who, as one sign of that independence, opposes the building of this destructive pipeline.


*Once I calculated Dominion’s return-on-investment weighing the cost of the donations against the value of what the state government does for that corporation because of the money. The calculation was about the legislating of a disreputable accounting trick at Dominion’s request, thereby putting a few hundred million dollars into Dominion’s coffers that, in a more fair and honest arrangement, would be in the state’s tax coffers and in the pockets of Dominion’s customers. The ratio of Dominion’s financial benefit to the financial costs of its donations was 1,000:1.


  • The “argument” that Virginia is powerless re: these pipelines demonstrates either ignorance or dishonesty. The fact is, Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (see http://bluevirginia.us/2016/11/virginians-launch-pipeline-pledge-resistance-stop-mvp-acp-projects) gives Virginia “authority to review and deny essential permits for the projects.”

  • Andy Schmookler

    I’d like to mention also the disappointing way that the representative of the Northam campaign at the Indivisible event dealt with the question of why Northam had declined to foreswear taking Dominion money.

    He dismissed the issue as a “purity test.” Which, if you think of it, really does not address the question asked.

    Evasive in dealing with what the governor COULD do, as both Lowell and I point out here. And evasive in deflecting the question by characterizing the issue as a “purity test.”

    Another part of his answer was to indicate that $100,000-plus dollars, over a ten-year period, is not that much money.

    But my guess is that it is not just the money that Dominion offers politicians– again, of both parties, not just the Mark Obenshains, who serve the Koch brothers but also the fossil fuel interests, but also some Democrats, including some otherwise good Democrats.

    It’s also the alliance. Dominion is an 800-pound gorilla, whose support or opposition I expect can make or break a politician. At least until we get more thorough-going ethics reform than the status quo in the political power system is likely to give us.

    • Calling it a “purity test” is both insulting and also evidence that they don’t get it. At all.

      • Andy Schmookler

        Maybe it’s a matter of not getting it. Surely the diversionary tactic is disrespectful of the intelligence of the listeners.

        My own interpretation is that this fellow — who was young, but quite sharp — was just being slippery. Like the best defense is a good offense. Like if you’ve not got the facts or the law on your side, pound the table. If the subject is disadvantageous for your guy, politically, change the subject: treat the question of political uprightness as if it is an unwarranted insistence on “purity.”

        • The big question is whether voters are knowledgeable enough or not to catch falsehoods, evasions, etc.

    • Jason Rylander

      It’s clear from conversations with multiple members of the House of Delegates, that they view Dominion money as essential to their electoral prospects. They are convinced the hundreds of thousands of dollars they receive from Dominion each year (close to $1 million) ultimately gets them more votes as the money is spent on campaigns than it loses in turning off voters who object to this kind of financing.

      This is in part because, to date, the environmental community has not been especially effective in flexing its political muscle. Scorecards and endorsements are one thing. Actively promoting greener candidates in primaries is another. I believe that is changing and not just because of the immediacy of the climate crisis. It is also because this issue is now bigger than traditional environmental politics.

      I think the Democratic Party has a serious messaging problem being both indebted to corporations like Dominion and claiming standing up for the people. More and more people do not connect with us at an emotional level because they simply do not trust us. And why should they? If the House Caucus actually believes Dominion money is essential to victory, what are they willing to do to get it?

  • barbaralee12

    I personally feel that big money came down from Citizens United. When Former President Obama was running and the bill was passed he was critized for taking money. His answer was why should he be left out .When Tom was running for Congress he had the President to campaign for him,when he shows this ad it is being dishonest because the former President has not endorsed him as of yet. No one is going to stop this pipeline. Tom has received big money from George Soros and other big donors.Did he turn down Dominion in his last run for office?I am so tired of candidates running on one issue.Show me his donors!.

    • Andy Schmookler

      A a couple of problematic things in your comment, barbaralee12. (Other than Citizens United not being a “bill” but a Supreme Court case.)

      When you say, “No one is going to stop this pipeline,” is that a prediction (quote possibly true), or are you saying that it would be impossible to stop it (not true, as I understand it, from Mike Tidwell of Chesapeake Climate Action Network).

      When you bring up George Soros, are you trying to imply some equivalence in terms of corruption between a Soros donation and a Dominion donation? If so, what kind of “favors” do you imagine that Soros would want out of the Virginia government? The question pretty much shows the utter difference here:

      Soros has spent the last quarter century trying to encourage democracy and the values of the “open society” around the world. (It’s his money that helped establish the Central European University in Budapest that the fascist regime there is now attacking.)

      Right-wingers often mention Soros money, as if it smelled as bad as, say, Koch money. But I am unaware of Soros using his donations, or any of his other philanthropy, to serve his own private interests or enrichment. The same cannot be said of the Koch brothers. And it cannot be said of Dominion.

      In my mind, if George Soros donates to help Tom Perriello, that is a very impressive personal endorsement, an indication that this strong champion of democratic values — and a very smart fellow as well — believes in Perriello.

      BTW, a great many people from Obama’s circle have endorsed Perriello. I am not at all surprised if the former President himself steers clear of a primary endorsement. Since leaving office, has Obama endorsed any Democrat running against another Democrat in a primary?

      • Agreed, there is absolutely no parallel between George Soros on the one hand and Dominion on the other. That’s beyond absurd. Even more absurd is Northam’s campaign attacking Tom’s Avaaz contributions, given that: a) Avaaz is an amazing, progressive, humanitarian organization; b) Avaaz is funded by grassroots donations. How on earth any of that is parallel to Dominion Power is completely beyond me.

  • Virginia4

    Don’t be fooled. Look at Perriello’s voting record. After the Deepwater oil spill, there was an important piece of legislation that established the Office of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in the Bureau of the Interior and created key safety standards for offshore drilling. Perriello voted against. As an environmentalist, I find that indefensible.


    • Andy Schmookler

      I am not yet in a position to comment on this particular vote.

      But as for being “fooled” about how good Perriello is on environmental issues, I would expect that the last person susceptible to being fooled would be Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. (Every environmentalist presumably knows him as a superhawk on the environment– not afraid, most recently, to go after Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada and darling of many progressives.)

      Bill McKibben has endorsed Tom Perriello (https://www.tomforvirginia.com/2017/05/350-org-founder-environmentalist-bill-mckibben-endorses-tom-perriello-virginia-governor/).

      Are you going to claim, Virginia4, that Bill McKibben doesn’t know where an environmentalist’s concerns are best addressed in this Democratic primary?

      • Virginia4

        I have not figured out why Perriello is getting a pass on his voting record. This is only one of many issues that raise my concern. His previous vote against FDA Oversight of Tobacco is also indefensible imho. I realize it is a wholly separate issue but his pattern of inconsistency is disturbing. http://votesmart.org/bill/9087/fda-oversight-of-tobacco-products#.WLYzxRiZOT8

        • Far from getting a pass, Tom Perriello has been asked –
          or criticized – probably hundreds of times at this point for his past NRA “A” rating, for his “Stupak” vote, and for his previous support (along with just about every Virginia statewide Democrat) for offshore drilling. To his credit, he has: a) answered the questions in detail; b) shifted his positions significantly on the NRA and offshore drilling, while strongly affirming his commitment to being a “brick wall” against GOP assaults on women’s reproductive freedom. For his part, Ralph Northam has really never explained how he moved from being a lifelong Republican and George W. Bush voter (in 2000 and 2004) to being a Democrat. Also, I’ve heard multiple explanations/stories regarding Northam’s alleged discussions with Republicans about possibly switching parties or caucusing with them. So, no question, both of these guys have stuff in their backgrounds that raises questions/concerns, but I’d argue that Perriello has been far more forthcoming about his than Northam has been…

      • Virginia4

        With all due respect, Ralph has indeed been forthcoming. The reason his vote for Bush is known is because he shared that fact. He has often shared the story of his transition to becoming a Democrat, wha his concerns were and why he shifted parties and decided to run for State Senate. Old conjectures about his being courted by Republicans in the past is not relevant. What is relevant to me is where the rubber meets the road and that is Perriello’s voting record. Voting against abortion – and actually, I was part of the coalition that begged him not to vote for Stupak – voting against making tobacco companies reveal their ingredients, voting against the Dodd Frank Wall St Reform & Consumer Protection Act, voting against off shore drilling safety regs, voting against the Food Safety Modernization Act. If he has changed his positions, that’s fine but I have nothing to base my trust on. And unlike Northam, he has virtually no record of service in the Commonwealth so I have nothing there to judge either.

        • Andy Schmookler

          About votes, I can’t comment– except to say that there can be more to them than meets the eye: I recall the poison pill the Bushites put into the 2002 homeland security bill to lure Democrats into voting against an extraneous anti-labor provision, so then the Republicans could attack the likes of Senator Max Cleland in George — who had left three of his four limbs in Viet Nam — for being on Osama bin Laden’s side.

          So maybe the votes your describe were wrong-headed, or perhaps they were something else.

          But in any event, the rubber hits the road in many places. For example:

          At the Harrisonburg forum, Northam’s spokesman claimed that Northam was a “progressive.” That was a positive word with that audience. But I’ve read Northam quoted as rejecting being labeled even as a “liberal,” maintaining that he’s more “moderate” than that. And saying that he believes the smaller the government the better.

          That, combined with the Bush vote in 2004 (and yes, it is to his credit that he did not hide that fact, but it does not change its troubling implications), and with his reportedly having come close to switching back over to the Republican side in the Senate, after being elected as a Democrat, do not encourage me to join you in your evident conclusion:

          To wit, I cannot see that someone who has the concerns you’ve indicated — environment, anti-tobacco, pro-choice, regulation of our corporate system — would be wise to trust Northam more than Perriello.

          And we see that some of the national figures most clearly entitled to be considered unwavering champions of such values — like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — have reached the same conclusion as I have.

          Somehow, apparently, you think you see these candidates more clearly than do Sanders, Warren, McKibben, and others who, it would seem, share your values.

          If those are, indeed, the values you’re trying to serve.

          • Virginia4

            All I will say is that I want a Governor who knows the state. Someone who has been in the weeds with the many issues that face us. It’s all well and good that nationally known names like Tom, but for those of us who actually do the work of serving the citizens, there is a reason why Ralph has the support of every major state leader and and those who have worked with him.

          • Tom represented the VA 5th CD, has lived in Alexandria for several years, and now has been all over the state – holding dozens of town hall meetings – while coming out with some cutting-edge policy proposals. Yes, Tom knows the state. What I’m much more concerned with is having people with ties to Dominion Power, McGuireWoods, and the entire “Virginia Way” that needs to be tossed into the dustbin of history…

          • Andy Schmookler

            What you said just now does seem to me the best case to make for Northam:

            1) He has labored at the level of specifically Virginia politics more than Perriello. (Though Perriello’s career suggests to me that he’s a very quick study.) And
            2) He has earned the gratitude of many Democratic political figures, with his travels around the state, during his Lt. Gov. years, supporting them well. (Though their support of Northam’s candidacy was pledged when everyone thought that he would be running unopposed for this nomination, and it’s unknown how many would have done so had they seen the choice we voters now face.)

            As I indicate in my piece, above, I expect that if Northam becomes our governor, he’ll be as satisfactory as McAuliffe has been. Which, to me, means: I’m really, really glad he beat Kuccinelli, but I am well short of thrilled.

          • Virginia4

            Having been at the General Assembly every year for many years as a citizen advocate, I can only say great things about the ways in which McAuliffe and Northam worked to stave off the assaults of our Tea Partying, Trump supporting, religious wing nuts. With his vetoes, McAuliffe has kept his promise to be a wall against the Republican assault on reproductive rights, voting rights, LGBT rights, religious overreach, coal tax credits, et al. Northam has been there every step of the way. I have grown to admire him greatly.

  • New push to reject fossil fuel industry money in US elections
    gains endorsement from VA gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello

    Today, as news builds that President Trump will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, Tom Perriello, candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Virginia, became the first gubernatorial candidate to sign a new pledge to reject contributions from the fossil fuel industry during his campaign.

    The “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledge is being spearheaded by Oil Change USA, ClimateTruth.org Action, Climate Hawks Vote, Activate Virginia, 350 Mass Action, Sunrise, Food & Water Action Fund, and 350 Action. It requires those who sign to reject campaign contributions from the oil, gas and coal industries, in light of the industry’s ongoing efforts to delay action on climate change and force dangerous pipelines, power plants, and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects into communities.

    Those that sign No Fossil Fuel Money pledge promise “to not take contributions from the the oil, gas, and coal industry and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits.”

    “By signing this pledge, Tom Perriello is showing that he’s willing to stand up to Dominion Energy, fracked gas pipeline builders, and the rest of the fossil fuel industry in order to truly represent the people of Virginia,” said Stephen Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change USA. “It’s the perfect response to Donald Trump’s ill-informed and cowardly withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. We need more leaders like Tom Perriello who can lead a movement for the Separation of Oil and State, and we intend to find them.”

    Today’s announcement also launches a new nationwide coalition effort of climate-focused organizations targeting candidates in upcoming elections across the country reject fossil fuel industry money. This year already, over 75 candidates have signed similar pledges in Virginia and California, building on efforts in Massachusetts that led to 74 candidate signers.

    “We kicked off the fossil fuel pledge in California with sitting members of Congress Nanette Barragan (CA-44) and Ro Khanna (CA-17) signing the pledge, and viable candidates for red-to-blue seats across California joining,” said RL Miller, founder of Climate Hawks Vote, who led the pledge effort along with California’s Oil Money Out coalition. “We endorsed Perriello for his bold stand in rejecting Dominion money, and are excited to be broadening the effort and working with clean money advocates and climate hawks across the nation.”

    The new Fossil Free Pledge effort launched with a new website at NoFossilFuelMoney.org. Organizers behind the pledge plan to target key races around the country in the lead-up to the 2018 mid-term elections, pushing candidates to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. The campaign launches as President Trump is signaling his intentions to gut climate policies and pull the United States out of the Paris international climate agreement.

    “Climate leaders don’t take fossil fuel money, it’s as simple as that,” said Emily Southard, Campaigns Director with ClimateTruth.org Action. “Coastal towns and cities are already grappling with the costs of rising seas. We’re in a hole and it’s time for our political leaders to stop digging.”

    “With this commitment, Tom Perriello again proves he’s willing to address the fundamental corruption – and its disastrous environmental consequences – that pervades Virginia politics today,” said Josh Stanfield, Executive Director of Activate Virginia.

    “With the Trump Administration on the brink of exiting the Paris Climate Agreement, now more than ever, we need elected leaders, and those running for office, to step up state and local climate action, taking concrete action against the fossil fuel industry,” said Jason Kowalski, U.S Policy Director at 350 Action. “Tom Perriello’s pledge to reject contributions from the fossil fuel industry during his campaign is a commitment to keeping politics clean. It is the type of leadership we should be calling for from all candidates running for office to secure our future and the future of our communities.”

    “After 40 Massachusetts state legislators of both parties signed a pledge declaring their freedom from dirty energy money, we are excited to see this idea take on national scale. Now more than ever, it’s clear that the dirty energy industry’s stranglehold on our political process must–and will–come to an end,” said Craig Altemose Executive Director of 350 Mass Action.

    “The fight for climate stability is very much a fight against the pipeline of fossil fuel money flowing to our state and federal leaders. Until the dirty money spigot is closed for good, our health, our climate and our society will suffer,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Action Fund. “When candidates like Tom Perriello say ‘no’ to the dirty money, they’re taking a key step towards putting people and the planet first.”

    “Fossil fuel executives have been purchasing politicians and diminishing our democracy for too long,” said Varshini Prakash, spokesperson for Sunrise. “Rejecting fossil fuel money is the absolute minimum for any candidate to be considered a climate advocate. Young voters are gearing up to support candidates who take this stand, and end the careers of politicians who refuse.”

    More details on the campaign and candidates who have signed the pledge will be added to NoFossilFuelMoney.org as the campaign progresses.