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Commonwealth Campaign Cash from Big Coal, etc.
By Daniel Berti
Capital News Service
Editors' note: An earlier version of this story erred in stating that the five largest energy-related political donors had given more money to Democrats than to Republicans in 2018. Specifically, the article erroneously reported that Dominion Energy and Virginia Natural Gas had contributed more to Democrats than to Republicans; that is incorrect. In fact, only two of the top five energy-related donors gave more to Democrats than to Republicans last year. The initial story was based on numbers from the Virginia Public Access Project’s website before they were updated Friday with the most recent campaign finance reports. We have revised the story and the infographics to reflect the correct information. In this revised story, we looked at the top eight energy-related donors; four of them gave more to Democrats than to Republicans in 2018.
RICHMOND, Virginia — In a break from past years, some large energy-related political donors gave more money to Virginia Democrats than to Republicans in 2018, according to campaign finance reports posted Friday by theVirginia Public Access Project.
For example, United Co., a coal mining company in Bristol, Virginia, contributed $130,000 to Democrats and $121,000 to Republicans in 2018, the VPAP numbers show. That was the only time in the past 10 years that United gave Democrats more than Republicans. In 2017, for example, United gave more than $102,000 to Republicans and nothing to Democrats.
Dominion Energy, the largest energy-related donor, contributed mostly to Republicans last year — more than $207,000, vs. about $160,000 to Democrats (including $30,750 to the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and $25,000 to the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus). Over the past decade, Dominion has usually given Republicans more than Democrats.
Donations by Thomas Farrell, Dominion’s CEO, are tabulated separately from the company’s contributions. Every year from 2008 through 2017, Farrell donated more to Republicans than to Democrats. But that changed last year: In 2018, Farrell gave Democrats $38,500 and Republicans $27,000.
Farrell donated $5,000 each to five Democratic senators: Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg, Mamie Locke of Hampton, Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, Richard Saslaw of Fairfax and Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake. His largest single donation, $15,000, went to the Colonial Leadership Trust PAC, a political action committee created by Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox.
Stephen Farnsworth, director of University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, said energy companies may be reacting to the shifting political landscape in Virginia.
“It’s clear that Dominion and many other energy industries are trying to win more friends in the Democratic Caucus,” Farnsworth said. “This is particularly important in 2019 because there may be Democratic majorities in the House and Senate next year.”
Another energy-related donor that changed its pattern of political donations was EQT Corp. The Pittsburgh-based company is involved in the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would deliver natural gas from West Virginia to Virginia.
Last year, EQT Corp. donated more than $43,000 to Democrats and less than $35,000 to Republicans in 2018. Every year from 2008 through 2017, EQT gave Republicans more than Democrats. In 2017, for instance, EQT contributed $60,000 to Republicans and $31,500 to Democrats.
Similarly, Clyde E. Stacy, former head of Rapoca Energy, had given mostly to Republicans over the past decade. But in 2018, he donated $125,000 to Democrats and $102,500 to Republicans. Stacy is currently CEO of Par Ventures in Bristol, Virginia. He and United Co. are hoping to build a casino in Bristol — an issue before the General Assembly.
Like Dominion Energy, several large energy-related donors continue to contribute mostly to Republicans.
William Holtzman, head of a heating oil company and father of Republican Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County, gives exclusively to Republicans, including $192,000 last year.
Appalachian Power donated more than $76,000 to Republicans and $46,500 to Democrats in 2018,according to VPAP, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that shines a light on money in politics.
And Virginia Natural Gas contributed $55,500 to Republicans and $38,500 to Democrats. But that was more than Virginia Natural Gas donated to Democrats in past years. The company gave Democrats $30,000 in 2017 and $21,000 in 2016.
“This year will likely be a very expensive year for a lot of interests in Richmond,” Farnsworth said. “They basically have to donate to Republicans and Democrats, not knowing which party is going to be in control next year.”
All seats in the General Assembly are up for election in November.
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