(The Center Square) — Virginia bills that would have barred Dominion Energy and other utilities from donating to state-level political campaigns have been stalled during the Senate committee process.
“Every year I introduce this bill, and every year someone comes up with a smart comeback to block this bill,” Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said in response to the opposing committee. to Senate Bill 45.
Senate Bill 45, sponsored by Petersen, and Senate Bill 568, sponsored by Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, would both have prohibited public services from making donations to candidates, campaign committees and political action committees. Petersen’s bill would have penalized the candidate or committee for soliciting such donations and Stuart’s bill would have penalized the utility for providing the donation.
In 2021, Dominion played a significant role in the statewide political process, donating over $1 million to Republicans and over $1.8 million to Democrats.
During the commission, Petersen told lawmakers that utilities are state monopolies whose profits are regulated by the General Assembly. He argued that it is a conflict of interest to allow utilities to provide funding to lawmakers who will ultimately determine their profitability.
Petersen said the legislation would make the system cleaner and argued that it does not violate free speech, nor does it violate Supreme Court precedent in Citizens United V. FEC, saying most states have regulations similar in the books.
Some committee members who voted against the bill, including Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, questioned the effectiveness of the proposal and its constitutionality. Surovell told The Center Square that he believes campaign finance reform should be done comprehensively and that Citizens United’s decision limits what lawmakers can do.
Surovell also argued that utilities could circumvent the law by funding causes through nonprofits and other political and nonpolitical entities. He said the current system maximizes sunshine.
The legislation failed to pass the Privileges and Elections Committee on a vote of 11-4.