Earlier this afternoon, the Virginia State Senate’s Privileges & Elections Committee debated Sen. Chap Petersen’s SB25, a much-needed bill that would “[prohibit] any candidate from soliciting or accepting a contribution from any public service corporation, as defined in § 56-1, or any political action committee established and administered by such a corporation.” The debate over the bill was *very* revealing, and mostly not in a good way, about the slimy, corrupt, incestuous “Virginia Way” and also the resistance to changing that system.
See below for video, followed by “highlights” of some of the most interesting, revealing and/or appalling comments.
- Sen. Lionell Spruill (D-SD5), who represents a super-safe, ultra-“blue” district (went 77%-22% for Tim Kaine in 2018; 75%-25% for Mark Herring in 2017; etc.), complained that it’s soooo hard for politicians in the Hampton Roads area to raise money compared to politicians in Northern Virginia, and asked Sen. Petersen to change his bill to make it so that the limits for “Northern Virginia folks” would be “half of what I get in Hampton Roads.” Of course, this is nonsense on many levels, starting with the fact that Spruill isn’t in an even slightly competitive seat, so why would Democratic donors prioritize giving him money?!? Also worth pointing out is that Democrats in the Hampton Roads are can raise and have raised TONS of money, such as Elaine Luria’s $4.2 million in 2018; Cheryl Turpin’s $354k in 2019; Missy Cotter Smasal’s $261k in 2019; Nancy Guy’s $465k in 2019; Shelly Simonds’ $407k in 2019; Kelly Fowler’s $212k in 2019; Phil Hernandez’s $180k in 2019; etc. So…maybe it’s not a problem with Hampton Roads, generically, but with Lionell Spruill, specifically?
- There were some great speakers in support of Sen. Petersen’s bill, including Bob Shippee of the Sierra Club, who correctly argued that this not a “constitutional issue…personal beef issue [or] a partisan issue.” As Shippee explained, “I’m unaware of any other states that would allow a company that is regulated by the body…to contribute money to the folks that are doing the regulating; it’s a right and wrong thing.”
- Freeda Cathcart from SW Virginia asserted, correctly, that Dominion has “betrayed the public’s trust by suppressing the economic revolution in renewable energy…you cannot have a monopoly suppress capitalism.”
- Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore added that “similar prohibitions exist on utility monopolies in 28 states across the country, and we believe it’s high time that Virginia joined those.”
- Emergency room nurse Emily Little of Charlottesville said, “I want the voices of Virginians to matter, not just a few voices of a few corporations…Public service corporations, including utility monopolies, should not be able to contribute money to the General Assembly…I think this makes it ‘complicated’ to regulate.” Little compared this to her work in the emergency room, asking what it would be like if she didn’t get paid by the hospital, but by the patients: “Instead of triaging you on whether…you’re breathing…instead I’m thinking about…who can give me the most money, and then, guess what, they’re doing to get treated first. And I feel like Dominion Energy is getting treated first in this state…they are the top priority, and then forget our children.”
- Sen. Spruill, who NOT coincidentally has received $50k from Dominion over the years, making that “utility monopoly” Spruill’s #1 all-time donor, then jumped in to express his outrage at what Emily Little was suggesting: “So when you’re saying that when Dominion Energy and many of us up here [give us] campaign contributions, that they are buying our vote?” In response to Little saying that she thought we needed to get money out of politics, Spruill responded with dripping condescension, “bless your heart, bless your heart.” Of course, again, the fact is that Dominion Energy has been Spruill’s #1 all-time donor, and that Spruill in turn has voted Dominion’s way for many years. And no, Dominion Energy does *not* donate money out of altruism, of course. By the way, it’s *very* interesting that Spruill voted in favor of this bill, after which Dominion gave Spruill $7,250, and now he’s apparently against the bill. Fascinating, eh?
- Hard-right Sen. Bryce Reeves (R), a corporate tool extraordinaire, then challenged Emily Little – also in a VERY condescending, lecturing tone – about how wonderful Dominion supposedly is, about how there’s supposedly been a “lot of misinformation put out there” about Dominion, blah blah blah. Reeves also took shots at Clean Virginia and its funder, Michael Bills, who he bizarrely compared to state-regulated monopoly Dominion Energy. With a straight face, Reeves concluded, “If you think that some money’s going to be some of these votes up here, you’re absolutely wrong.” Hahahaha, riiiight…there’s totally no connection between the money Dominion Energy gives – out of altruism, presumably! – and the results it gets from the legislature, which in fact have provided Dominion with an enormous Return on Investment (ROI) over the years.
- Josh Stanfield of Activate Virginia made some great points, including that his group got over 200 people to sign his no-Dominion-money pledge, without Activate Virginia giving them a penny. As Stanfield explained, Virginia has a “really bad reputation as being, you know, corrupt.” Stanfield also noted that Sen. Petersen’s bill is not, of course, the entire solution to the problem, but only one piece – a “small, incremental bit of progress.” Stanfield addressed Sen. Spruill and noted that a LOT of money comes in to Hampton Roads political races when it’s competitive.
- Nancy Najarian of the Virginia Grassroots Coalition argued clean energy development requires “champions,” and “champions need to be able to rise to the top unencumbered.” Sen. Peake (R) then, for whatever reason, made a point of emphasizing that Najarian is from Northern Virginia. Apparently, Peake thought he was making some sort of point there…
- Kathleen Nawaz, also of Northern Virginia (haha, Peake must have loved that!), argued that if in you live in most of Virginia, your monopoly source of power is Dominion – “you have no choice, you can’t vote with your feet and go somewhere else or choose something else…so your money, then, is going to Dominion [which] is giving money in very large amounts…that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever…You all are charged with the welfare of the citizens of…Virginia, and we as citizens are urging you to please remember that distinction.” Well said!
- David Kuebrich of the Northern Virginia Climate Coalition said, correctly, that the climate crisis is “the most serious problem humanity has ever faced” and also the “most serious issue that this legislative session” faces. Kuebrich argued that this bill will “make it easier for legislators to objectively consider proposed energy bills.” He noted the urgency of the climate crisis, including a MUCH more rapid transition to renewables than Virginia has even *considered* prior to this year. Kuebrich concluded, “I hope that in the future, we can look back and say the real groundwork for solving the climate crisis was done right here in Richmond.”
- Finally, Sen. Petersen emphasized that this is NOT a partisan issue, that there’s no hidden agenda, and that “the people in this audience all have an economic relationship with Dominion Power, whether they like it or not…by virtue of state law.” In stark contrast, Michael Bills “doesn’t have a monopoly under state law,” so there’s no comparison whatsoever. Exactly.