Utility Regulation Donations Divide Legislature

An ongoing debate over electric utility regulation has largely divided the state legislature into two camps: Those who accept political donations from Dominion Energy and those who take money from Clean Virginia.

Why we are publishing this data: Once again, electric utility regulation is a major issue this year in the Virginia General Assembly. We were interested in understanding how political donations might suggest fault lines in the debate. For decades, Dominion Energy has been the state’s largest corporate political donor and has lobbied for a regulatory and rate structure favorable to its shareholders. In 2018, Dominion Energy was a donor to 121 of 140 members of the legislature.

That same year, Michael Bills of Albemarle County devoted part of his personal fortune to set up a political counterweight to Dominion Energy. His Clean Virginia Fund called on more robust oversight by the State Corporation Commission on behalf of ratepayers. Clean Virginia also began making political donations in amounts that rivaled those of Dominion Energy. There is one stipulation: Recipients must have adopted a stance against accepting campaign donations from regulated public utilities (such as Dominion Energy) and its employees.

Five years later, the data shows this rivalry has largely reorganized the legislature into one of two camps. Some 130 of 140 current state legislators have either accepted money from Dominion Energy (but not Clean Virginia) or accepted money from Clean Virginia (but not Dominion Energy).

Source: Campaign finance reports filed by legislators' primary campaign committees with the Virginia Department of Elections. Dollar amounts shown include cash and in-kind contributions reported from 2019 through January 11, 2023.

Caveat: Two current legislators received donations from both Dominion Energy and Clean Virginia during this period. VPAP has classified Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) as a current Clean Virginia recipient. Bourne received $20,000 from Dominion Energy in 2019. He later agreed to swear off utility money and has reported $40,000 in donations from Clean Virginia. VPAP has classified Del. Clint Jenkins (D-Suffolk) as a current Dominion Energy recipient. From 2019-21, Jenkins received $111,767 from Clean Virginia. Last year, Jenkins accepted $50,000 from Dominion Energy, making him ineligible for additional support from Clean Virginia .