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Slimy “Virginia Way” Epitomized: Dominion CEO Tom Farrell Named to the Shadowy, Taxpayer-Funded-Corporate-Welfare “GO Virginia” Board

Jeff Thomas: GO Virginia "an extra-legislative fund set up by ‘the business community’ to give tens of millions of dollars to their own pet projects without any oversight whatsoever. "

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Back in January, I listed the “Worst 40 Virginia Politicos Since 2005.” Clocking in at #3 worst – behind the abominable Ken Cuccinelli and Corey Stewart – was none other than our old pal, Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell, aka “Virginia’s own version of the Koch brothers.” Arguably, Farrell and the supposedly “state-regulated monopoly” utility have done as much or more than anyone else in Virginia to make sure that our government is NOT clean, does NOT serve the people, does NOT protect the environment, does NOT move towards clean energy, etc, etc.

Yet far from being persona non grata, Farrell (and Dominion Energy more broadly) is very much welcome among the Virginia business and political elites who make up the “good ol’ boy” system of legalized corruption/crony capitalism known as “the Virginia Way.” For a lot more on that sordid topic, check out Jeff Thomas’ writings, including The Virginia Way: Democracy and Power After 2016. You might want to do that before eating, though, because it is truly vomitous.

So today, despite the efforts of some folks – like Clean Virginia – to reduce or eliminate Dominion Energy’s negative influence on our body politic, it appears that not only is Dominion’s CEO not an outcast, but instead is invited onto important state boards and commissions. For instance, see the screenshot below, which informs us that Tom Farrell was just appointed by Gov. Northam to the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board (GO Virginia). Tellingly,  this appointment was announced late on a Friday afternoon, with Farrell’s name buried in a long list of appointments to various boards and commissions. Now, that might or might not have been intentional, but if there’s now a bit of stigma attached to Dominion Energy, that’s at least a small sign of progress, I suppose.

So what is “GO Virginia,” you might ask? In sum, as one of the smartest Virginia political observers I know – Jeff Thomas, noted above – described it to me:

“GO Virginia is an extra-legislative fund set up by ‘the business community’ to give tens of millions of dollars to their own pet projects without any oversight whatsoever. It represents the denouement of the Virginia Way: to abolish democracy.”

And as another person who’s very insightful about this stuff said to me:

“It’s kinda a nebulous entity flush with cash. Every now and then you’ll get a [GO Virginia] press release. Otherwise it’s all behind the scenes.”

Lovely, eh? Here’s a bit of background:

  • Here’s a Washington Post story from April 7, 2016, a time when the “McAuliffe-backed economic development program [appeared to] be doomed,” which explains how Attorney General Mark Herring found that “the $35 million [GO Virginia] program probably violates the state constitution… because it would create an executive-branch board that was not controlled by the executive branch.”
  • Here’s the membership in GO Virginia, which as you can see is HEAVILY weighted towards powerful corporate interests ( the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, lots of local Chambers of Commerce, Virginia FREE, the Virginia Business Council, etc.). Note who is NOT included in this membership list? That’s right: labor, environmental groups, social justice organizations, the NAACP, etc, etc.
  • Also, see here for the statewide board of GO Virginia, which includes right-wing/corporate crony Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox (R), right-wing/corporate crony Virginia State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R), right-wing/coal company servant Del. Terry Kilgore (R), right-wing/corporate crony Del. Steve Landes (R), powerful right-wing/corporate crony Del. Chris Jones (R), Jim Dyke of McGuireWoods (aka, “Virginia’s shadow government”), etc. Also note who you don’t see here – again, labor, environmental advocates, social justice organizations, the NAACP, etc., etc.
  • GO Virginia describes itself as “an initiative by Virginia’s senior business leaders to foster private-sector growth and job creation through state incentives for regional collaboration by business, education, and government.” So yeah, it’s by “Virginia’s senior business leaders,” yet it’s also supposedly administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. It’s also, as you can see here, heavily funded by…yep, OUR tax dollars.
  • So what does this money buy, exactly? If you look at GO Virginia’s press releases, the latest announced projects were a year ago – “three projects from across the state for a total of $4,217,500 in state funding,” including one which “aims to bolster the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem” and another which “aims to create a workforce system to effectively attract, prepare, and retain qualified candidates to fill high demand cybersecurity and IT jobs.” And yet, again, the GO Virginia board is heavily comprised of powerful corporate and pro-corporate/right-wing figures. Does that give you a warm/fuzzy feeling? Yeah, didn’t think so.
  • Also check out the RTD story, As GO Virginia gets budget boost, chairman says it’s time for results, which reported: “The new state budget gives a $15 million boost to GO Virginia, but the chairman of the corporate-led economic development initiative says it’s time for the program to start delivering the jobs and investment it promised…John O. ‘Dubby’ Wynne, a Hampton Roads business leader re-elected chairman of the two-year-old Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board, said he’s pleased with the progress nine regional councils have made to begin developing projects that require collaboration among local governments and businesses across the region.”

So again, this is basically the epitome of the slimy, “legalized corruption,” “good-ol’-boy,” taxpayer-funded corporate welfare system known as the “Virginia Way.” And the appointment of Dominion CEO Tom Farrell to the GO Virginia board is just the (rotten) icing on the (stale) cake.