Campaign FInance Reform Bills Are Struggling in Arlington

Campaign FInance Reform Bills Are Struggling in Arlington

Think campaign finance reform legislation isn’t important to you? Big money in campaign finance can affect our lives directly from the amount of our electric bills to the quality of the water we drink. Arlington residents are overpaying for energy because Dominion Power gets to write its own rules, according to Del. Sally Hudson (D-57) who spoke on the topic to an audience of Arlington energy activists. 

Two bills, HB71 and HB1288, which came before House of Delegates this session comprise the Rate Protection Act and would end contributions from energy utilities to candidates for the House and Senate in Richmond. 

Dominion gets to help elect representatives who will protect their rate-setting, “and that’s just a wild conflict of interest,” said Hudson. 

Hudson is one of the legislators who has led on energy reform work. She notes, “We live in a world where Dominion Energy is the single largest donor to both parties. They write the laws, drop them on the legislators’ desks and then shepherd them as they go through the system.”  

Hudson wants energy companies to be more accountable to the customers they serve. “The price you pay is wildly overpriced,” she said. “Every three years the energy companies have to have prices reviewed by the State Corporation Commission. But the SCC doesn’t have the freedom to set those prices fairly because Dominion can write its own version of laws which affect them. Last year was a three year review period and they charged more than a billion dollars over the correct amount.  Customers will only get about a third of that back."

The reform bills are an attempt to (re)empower the regulators, and it is impressive that Republicans and Democrats have teamed up to write reform bills this year. Hudson, who “got into politics to fight back against the corporate players that run the show in Richmond,” notes that “because the higher energy costs get charged to those who are least able to insulate and modernize their houses, the energy bills end up being a kind of “pernicious regressive tax.”

It’s been discouraging for campaign finance activists (and clean energy activists) who saw the clear mandate from Virginia voters in a Christopher Newport University poll, and the bipartisan support for campaign finance as an opportunity to make reform happen in Richmond. Out of 24 campaign finance bills, 15 are dead with 7 "tabled" just last week in the House P&E Sub-Committee, including Sen. Marcus Simon's (D-53) personal use bill (HB 973) and a companion Republican bill patroned by Del. Mike Cherry (R-66). 

All four bills proposing bans on public service corporations’ financing of campaigns died. 

HB1288, proposed by Del. Hudson, would provide that in any annual rate review of a public utility by the State Corporation Commission, the Commission may find that the rates of a public utility, including an investor-owned incumbent electric utility, are not just and reasonable and may take corrective action. Under the bill, the Commission may conduct an investigation into the rates of any public utility on its own initiative or upon application by an affected party. Additionally, when capped rates of service for investor-owned incumbent electric utilities expire or terminate, the bill permits the Commission to find that the rates are not just and reasonable and take corrective action. This House subcommittee on Commerce and Energy recommended continuing the bill to 2023.  

HB71, proposed by Del. Lee Ware (R-65) would prohibit candidates, campaign committees, and political committees from soliciting or accepting contributions from any public utility, as defined in the bill, and prohibits any public utility or any political committee established by such public utility from making any such contribution. It was laid on the table. A bill “laid on the table” can be reconsidered prior to the deadline established by the procedural resolution that sets the schedule for consideration of bills, but while it is a less definite status than “passing it by” it is still not likely the bill would be under consideration again during the session.    

There are still nine bills in play, two disclosure bills by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) and Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-29) that passed out of the Senate, and two House Bills, one Del. David Bulova’s (D-37) oversight bill and Sen Tim Andersen’s (R-83) disclosure bill which sets up an electronic database.   But bills like Chap Peterson’s (D-34) SB44 are not making it, and it would be hard not to draw a direct line between Dominion Power and the defeat of those bills. 

The bill prohibits persons from making any single contribution, or any combination of contributions, that exceeds $20,000 to any one candidate for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, or the General Assembly in any one election cycle. No limits are placed on contributions made by the candidate or the candidate's family to the candidate's campaign or by political party committees. Civil penalties for violations of the limits may equal up to two times the excess contribution amounts.  This bill died on Jan. 18, 2022.

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