Dominion Energy’s CEO sent an email to company employees Monday morning saying the company’s political action committee had failed to properly vet an anti-Glenn Youngkin PAC it gave large donations to, and is asking for its money back.
The email came following weekend news reports by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Axios that Dominion had donated $200,000 to a PAC that appears to be aligned with Democrats but is attacking Youngkin, the GOP nominee for governor, from the right on gun issues, creating the appearance that conservatives aren’t happy with Youngkin. The ads are running in rural areas of the state that support Youngkin, in an attempt to lower voter turnout for him.
Bob Blue told employees the company has a long history of transparent and bipartisan political giving.
“This weekend we were reminded that going above and beyond in transparency is necessary but not sufficient. Based on our own disclosures, two news stories highlighted activities of the Accountability Virginia PAC that we would not approve or knowingly support,” the CEO wrote.
“Although familiar with the Accountability Virginia PAC sponsors, we failed to vet sufficiently the scope of their intended activities. In as much, we have asked that our contributions be returned.
“As with any failure in terms of living up to our core values, we will learn from this and implement lessons learned going forward. We will not be giving to organizations of this nature in the future.”
It remains unclear how Dominion got connected with the PAC; Blue declined to be interviewed.
The ads on Facebook, Instagram, Google and Snapchat target rural areas of the state that support Youngkin, and the ads question his commitment to the Second Amendment, Axios reported.
Dominion gave $200,000 between July and September to Accountability Virginia PAC, which is running the ads.
The Youngkin campaign on Saturday issued a statement attacking Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe and Dominion. Youngkin himself unloaded on both Monday morning on WCHV radio in Charlottesville, referencing a recent finding by state regulatory staff that Dominion earned $1.1 billion above a fair profit over four years.
“I’m going to disrupt all of these entrenched interests in Richmond,” Youngkin said. Dominion wants “to keep Terry McAuliffe because they know they have somebody that they can manipulate. Terry is bought and sold by them. I’m going to stand up to Dominion Energy and say, ‘This is Virginians’ money.’ ”
On Sunday night, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wrote on Twitter that Dominion had spent money to suppress votes to help McAuliffe win.
“Republicans will take back Congress soon. Dominion’s leadership — especially CEO Robert Blue — ought to think very carefully about the consequences of funding disinformation to suppress voter turnout,” Cotton wrote.
Blue joined Dominion in 2005 after working as counselor and policy director to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., when Warner was governor. Blue became Dominion’s CEO just over a year ago.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, also emailed a statement to supporters calling on them to email and call Dominion to complain.
“Let’s make sure Dominion Energy knows that gun owners in Virginia do NOT appreciate the company interfering with our right to self-defense,” Van Cleave wrote in an email to his members Monday morning. “Let’s call them, email them, and protest at their office.”
It remains unclear who crafted the campaign to try to hurt Youngkin with his Republican base.
Jeremy Begun of MBA Consulting Group in Washington is listed as a contact for the PAC. He did not respond to an email Monday.
Accountability Virginia PAC filed articles of incorporation at the Virginia State Corporation Commission on July 1. The PAC filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission around the same time.
Dominion gave its first donation, $50,000, to the PAC on July 28, about a month later. The company then gave another $50,000 on Aug. 4 and $75,000 on Sept. 15. A stop-payment notice was issued for the Aug. 4 donation.
On Sept. 28, Axios reported on the PAC, saying a group tied to prominent Democratic strategists was “posing as a conservative outfit to try to drive a wedge between the Republican candidate for Virginia governor and his core voters.”
Dominion gave another $75,000 to the PAC the next day, according to a report filed this weekend with the Virginia Department of Elections. Dominion’s report listed its donations through Sept. 30; a company spokesman did not answer Monday when asked if the company had given any donations after that.
The McAuliffe campaign declined to answer questions, including whether McAuliffe was aware of Accountability Virginia PAC’s involvement in the election or if he had spoken with anyone about the PAC prior to news coverage of it.
While Dominion Energy is consistently one of the top donors in Virginia politics, its money goes to both parties. But some members of both parties — observing how the utility persuades lawmakers to approve utility-friendly legislation too complicated for people outside of a regulatory background to understand — have sworn off Dominion’s campaign money.
Two of the Republicans who scrutinize Dominion weighed in Monday.
It’s not as if Dominion gave money to a known Democratic entity that then did something embarrassing, said Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County.
“This is a group that has only existed for a few months,” he said of Accountability Virginia PAC. “These things don’t exist except for message advocacy.”
“This is like giving money to a known hit man, and then when the hit man goes out and commits violence saying, ‘Who knew he was going to go out and commit violence against my adversaries?’”
Suetterlein also called on Dominion to name the sponsors of the PAC that the company worked with. He added: “Dominion’s denial now is hollow.”
Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George, said he will make scaling down Dominion’s influence a special focus for the 2022 legislative session.
“The whole thing has disgusted me so much that I’m in the process of having a bill drafted that will prohibit them from donating to candidates or to PACs that will in any way influence elections,” Stuart said. “The time has come where Dominion needs to stop giving money to candidates and giving money to influence elections.”
Such bills have been killed by the legislature in recent years.
One of the biggest problems, he said, is that lawmakers feel pressure to take Dominion’s money because if they don’t, Dominion will directly or indirectly fund their opponents.
McAuliffe is among Democrats who won’t directly accept money from Dominion Energy. But Dominion gives so much to party leaders and party leadership committees that money gets where it needs to go regardless, Stuart said.