Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who threw his hat into the ring last month for the 2021 gubernatorial race, has evidently been reading some tea leaves about the Democratic electorate’s dimming view of state-regulated monopolies like Dominion Energy and the influence they wield.
In a wide-ranging interview with Blue Virginia published today, Herring says he will join a group of lawmakers and candidates who are refusing campaign donations from the energy giant, which has successively sidelined its regulators at the State Corporation Commission with utility regulatory overhauls it pushed through the General Assembly in 2015 and 2018 that allowed it to pocket hundred of millions in “overearnings” and spend that ratepayer money on a suite of eligible projects, respectively.
“So I’ve decided after the election last year that I would not accept contributions from state-regulated monopolies and that’s going to be my policy going forward,” Herring said. “That’s something that I think I could do to help restore the public’s trust.”
Herring’s remarks come a day after Clean Virginia, an advocacy group founded by major Democratic donor Michael Bills that is laser-focused on Dominion, came out with a report on the “tax” Dominion customers pay in higher bills as a result of the sway the utility has traditionally held over Virginia government.
Clean Virginia says it gives “no-strings-attached contributions to legislators and candidates who have demonstrated a public commitment to not accepting money from the utilities they have a duty to regulate.” It lists lawmakers who take the plunge as “champions.”
Dominion has given Herring $134,500, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Bills, an investor, former Goldman Sachs vice president and a visiting scholar at UVA, has given him $175,000. However, these types of decisions don’t just come down to dollar figures.
It’s an interesting, but probably calculated, move by Herring, who has historically had little to say directly on Dominion’s most controversial moves, such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, coal-ash cleanup and the 2018 grid law.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax also rejected Dominion donations during his campaign last year. He is also viewed as a likely contender for the Democratic nomination in 2021.
“Herring’s decision to do this in his gubernatorial run is intended to remove funding from Dominion as an issue in a prospective contest between him and Fairfax,” said Bob Holsworth, a veteran Virginia political analyst.
Holsworth said it’s “especially interesting” that refusing Dominion donations has become “THE litmus test” issue (emphasis his) for Virginia progressives.
“A host of new Democratic delegates refused to accept donations in 2019 and I presume that most statewide candidates will do so in 2021,” he said.
That could box in Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, also considered a potential gubernatorial candidate, Holsworth said.
“His administration is working with a nonprofit headed by Dominion CEO Tom Farrell on a major development plan on the edge of downtown,” Holsworth said. “If Levar seeks statewide office, would he join Herring and Fairfax in refusing donations or would he choose a different path?”
UPDATE: The post has been updated to add comments from veteran Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth.