AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown
A report released this morning by a public accountability non-profit details the interlocking relationships, campaign donations and potential conflicts of interest that Dominion Resources is deploying to secure approval of its Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The nonpartisan Public Accountability Initiative outlined potential conflicts of interest with state and federal regulatory agencies, donations to campaigns and foundations and efforts by CEO Tom Farrell and a revolving door of lobbyists to influence key decision-makers. Farrell and Dominion are guided in part by Farrell’s brother-in-law, Richard Cullen, who chairs the influential McGuireWoods law firm based across the street from Dominion’s headquarters in downtown Richmond.
“The report does not allege that Dominion is breaking any law or violating even the loose ethics codes that politicians are required to abide by,” said the report’s lead author, Derek Seidman. “Rather the goal of this report is to bring transparency to the powers behind the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP). It’s important for ordinary citizens who stand to be impacted by the pipeline, those whose environment will be affected and the public to know what’s happening” to secure its approval.
“Dominion Energy has stacked the deck and tilted the playing field with its deep pockets, political influence, staff revolving doors with government agencies, and campaign donations to candidates of both parties,” said Kirk Bowers of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter.
“Dominion Energy is the third political party in the state,” Bowers continued. “With an army of lobbyists, Dominion manipulates the political system to pass laws that insure profits to their shareholders regardless of the costs to the public.”
A spokesperson for Dominion Energy had not yet seen a copy of the report and declined to comment.
The report cited specific examples of how influential Dominion — now a $40 billion energy conglomerate and the state’s largest donor to political campaigns — has become:
- The Director of the Water Quality Permitting Division at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality – Melanie Davenport — was once a lawyer for Dominion, according to minutes from a Middlesex County Wetland Board meeting in 2001. Davenport sits on the board of the Virginia Water Resources Research center with Dominion’s current Energy Technology Advisor, Joe Tannery.
- Tom Farrell, CEO of Dominion since 2007, uses his estimated $14.4 million annual salary (the average from 2014-2016, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission) to make personal donations to numerous politicians, leaders of non-profits, business allies, educational institutions and other supporters of the pipeline. He is widely considered the most powerful person in the state, even more so than any governor, who cannot serve successive terms. Farrell’s son, Peter, is a member of Virginia House of Delegates and sits on the committee that oversees utility regulations.
- Dominion’ Federal Affairs Advisor, Laura Vaught, left her post as Administrator of the U.S EPA’s Office of Policy earlier this year to help direct the company’s lobbying for the pipeline and other issues.
- Dominion has relied on several surrogates to do its lobbying. A major force on its behalf is the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). It has lobbied for the ACP since 2015. From 2013 to 2015, Dominion donated $70,634 to NAM. In a recent quarter, 13 NAM lobbyists promoted the ACP to the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
- Over the past decade, three of Dominion’s most vocal backers who hold high-ranking positions in the state’s General Assembly received almost $400,000 between them from the utility. State Sen. Richard Saslaw, a Democrat and the Senate Minority Leader, received about $236,000. Senate majority leader Thomas Norment, a Republican, and House majority leader Kirkland Cox, also a Republican, received about $80,000 each.
- The current governors of Virginia and North Carolina – Terry McAuliffe and Roy Cooper — have received large donations through various channels. Dominion’s Political Action Committee (PAC) gave Gov. Terry McAuliffe $35,000 in October 2013, the month before he was elected. Dominion Virginia Power gave $50,000 to his inaugural committee. More recently, Dominion’s PAC gave $25,000 to McAuliffe’s “Common Good Virginia” PAC alongside of CEO Tom Farrell’s donation of $7,500.
- David Paylor, the overall head of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality who oversees recommendations by the department, was treated to an all-expenses-paid, $2,370 visit to the 2013 Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Dominion treated him and nine others to a $1,200 dinner.
- Dominion’s philanthropic foundation donated $65,000 to the Virginia and Maryland chapters of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. The alliance’s Virginia chapter is headed by Nissa Dean, who sits on the DEQ’s seven-member water control board, which is to approve or reject the water safety protections in Dominion’s application.
A decision by Virginia’s DEQ to approve or demand more from Dominion may stretch into 2018, in which case the next governor could influence the outcome. The report by Public-Accountability did not delve into Dominion’s hefty investments in this year’s gubernatorial race. But the Daily Progress last month included an independent tally of how much Dominion’s executives, lobbyists, board members and PAC have given to Ralph Northam, a candidate for the Democratic nomination, and his PAC: $109,283 through the most recent reporting period. The likely GOP nominee Gillespie and his PAC received $43,125 from those same donors during that period.