Commentary

Dominion should provide transparency on lobbying expenditures

May 5, 2021 12:01 am

A sign outside of a Dominion Energy office building in downtown Richmond. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

By Freeda Cathcart

Dominion Energy shareholders today have an opportunity to vote on a shareholder resolution calling for a full disclosure of the company’s lobbying activities and expenditures.

“We believe in full disclosure of Dominion’s direct and indirect lobbying activities and expenditures to assess whether Dominion’s lobbying is consistent with its expressed goals and in shareholder interests,” the resolution says.

After Dominion’s board released the 2021 proxy with the recommendation to vote against the item, concerned shareholders released a 12-page memo explaining why shareholders should vote for the resolution. It begins by stating:

The proposal is part of an ongoing investor campaign for greater corporate lobbying spending disclosure. Transparency and accountability in corporate lobbying-related spending to influence public policy is in the best interests of Dominion Energy shareholders. Without a clear system ensuring alignment and accountability, corporate assets can be used to promote public policy objectives which (a) may not be clearly reflective of investor interests, (b) may be at odds with corporate values and (c) may jeopardize Dominion’s reputation to the detriment of shareholder value.

We believe Dominion needs to commit to corporate political responsibility by increasing its lobbying disclosure, including ALL of its undisclosed third-party spending to influence public policy. This proposal is warranted because:

1. There are major gaps in Dominion’s lobbying disclosure;

2. Dominion’s existing lobbying disclosure creates serious reputational risk;

3. Dominion needs to disclose all social welfare dark money spending;

4. There is broad international support for lobbying transparency;

5. Dominion’s opposition statement is inadequate.

Due to Dominion’s lack of disclosing all dark money spending, shareholders don’t know exactly where the money has gone. For example, Dominion has given $170,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association from 2015-2020.

From “Industry money backs attorneys general pushing Atlantic Coast Pipeline“:

 “RAGA has been called a “pay to play” group and “Corporate Attorneys General” because it offers corporations access to its members based on how much money they donate to the group. According to a 2018 “Membership Benefits” explainer obtained by Documented, an organization that investigates corporate influence, a yearly contribution of $25,000 or more to RAGA allows corporate donors to shape the group’s legal policy via “a secret online bulletin board,” while $125,000 allows them to “lead issue briefings.” The benefits of giving $250,000 or more are available only “upon request.”

Also former U.S. Attorney General William Barr served on Dominion’s board from 2009-2019, when he resigned to become the U.S. Attorney General.

When the Supreme Court agreed to review a U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision revoking a key permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction (a decision that effectively halted construction on the project), Appalachian Trail advocates might not have been shocked if they knew that AG Barr’s Solicitor General encouraged the Supreme Court to do so.

From “Dominion buys pipeline support at Supreme Court through GOP Attorneys General“:

“Between 2009 and 2018, Barr received $2.3 million from Dominion in cash and stock awards, according to a Forbes report based on SEC filings. Upon his resignation from the Board, he received 2,000 shares of common stock, as outlined in his ethics agreement, worth about $150,000 at Dominion’s stock price this past spring. Barr was supposed to divest that stock within three months, according to his ethics agreement.

In February 2018, the Consumer Energy Alliance sent emails to state legislators bearing the names and addresses of residents who later said they were impersonated according to The Post and Courier of Charleston “S.C. lawmakers call for law enforcement probe of bogus pro-utility emails.” The emails advocated for the merger between SCANA and Dominion while denouncing legislation protecting S.C. ratepayers from being charged for SCANA’s V.C. Summer nuclear plant boondoggle. The Consumer Energy Alliance represents 80 energy providers, including Dominion Energy. SCANA merged with Dominion in January 2019.

Since Dominion canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, shareholder dividends have been reduced by a third.

Dominion shareholders have valid concerns about how Dominion’s lobbying and dark money expenditures could adversely affect their investment. The U.S. SIF Foundation’s 2020 biennial Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends found that sustainable investing assets now account for $17.1 trillion — or 1 in 3 dollars — of the total US assets under professional management. This represents a 42 percent increase over 2018.

Voting for Dominion’s Report on Lobbying will bring the best disinfectant, sunshine, to burnish Dominion’s reputation and a ray of hope for shareholder’s security.

Freeda Cathcart is an investor from Roanoke and a Dominion Energy shareholder. She will be defending the shareholder resolution at Dominion’s annual meeting.

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