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Senate committee kills bill to ban campaign donations from public-service corporations

Senate committee kills bill to ban campaign donations from public-service corporations

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In February 2017, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (left) and Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, urged then-Gov. McAuliffe to undo legislation that halted state utility rate reviews.

Dominion Energy is the top corporate donor in Virginia politics, and lawmakers aren’t going to turn away the company’s campaign money anytime soon.

Just two of 14 lawmakers — Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath — supported a bill in committee on Tuesday that would end campaign donations to lawmakers from public-service corporations like Dominion.

Senate Bill 10 from Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, went down on a 12-2 vote in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.

Petersen said the bill was necessary because customers of public monopolies have no option but to do business with them.

“These for-profit companies make donations to assembly members and then they come in and seek laws for their own benefit.”

Petersen said addressing donations from public service corporations became more urgent after lawmakers passed a controversial 2015 law that froze the base electricity rates of Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co. and temporarily stopped state regulators from ordering refunds to customers if those companies earned above their agreed-upon profit.

The law is resulting in an estimated $1 billion windfall for Dominion.

Petersen last year and again on Monday tried to undo the law but got little support.

“One of the root causes why my legislation was not successful, why we passed these underlying bills, was money had corrupted the process,” he said.

Petersen said he didn’t expect his campaign finance bill to pass. But he told his fellow lawmakers that until they take the money from public service corporations out of the General Assembly, “you will continue to get flawed legislation like the rate freeze.”

Virginia has no limit on campaign donations from individuals or corporations. Gov. Ralph Northam campaigned on a ban on all corporate campaign contributions, but did not mention that in his inaugural address Saturday or in a policy address to the General Assembly on Monday evening.

“It’s a four-year term and that’s something he intends to work on with the General Assembly,” Northam spokesman Brian Coy said Tuesday, declining to be more specific.

Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, thanked Petersen for bringing up the issue.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said he was voting against Petersen’s bill because it wasn’t fair to single out public service corporations.

“I can’t support singling out one industry,” he said.

Other senators who voted no: Reeves, Ben Chafin, R-Russell; John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake; Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg; Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach; John Edwards, D-Roanoke; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax; Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg; Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg; Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake; and Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier.

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Twitter: @patrickmwilson


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