Following the Money

Special-interest groups seek power and influence.

A look at campaign-finance documents from the 2019 election cycle reveals an intricate web of special-interest money, everything from Dominion and Verizon to casino developers and car-title lenders. Members of the Alexandria delegation took money from lobbyists and associations who have pending business during the upcoming two-month General Assembly session, when lawmakers will be forbidden from taking campaign cash.

The lion’s share went to Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, the incoming Majority Leader who represents four precincts in the West End. During the primaries, he faced a difficult and expensive challenge from the progressive left. In the process, Saslaw raised almost $1 million and spent almost $2 million. The top-ten list of his campaign contributors reads like the invitation list to a chamber of commerce cocktail hour. At the top of the list is Dominion Energy, the utility that corners the market on power and influence in Richmond. When asked about taking money from Dominion and LoanMax during the primary campaign, Saslaw rejected the idea it influences him.

“Do you really think anybody owns me given my financial situation?” he shot back in an interview last spring. “Do you know why I get this money? Because I’m the party leader. I’m the person who’s supposed to raise money for the caucus, OK? Do you really think that influences my vote?”

Until a few years ago, every member of the General Assembly took money from Dominion Energy. Now it’s the trendy new thing new thing to just say no to the utility monopoly. Charlottesville-based Clean Virginia Fund stepped in to offer competing campaign bucks for the other side of the issue, so candidates don’t even have to feel the financial pressure. Now almost 50 members refuse money from Dominion.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) used to take money from the Richmond-based energy utility; now, he does not.

“I don’t think that people who take money from Dominion are corrupt,” says Ebbin, whose last contribution from Dominion was for $1,000 in 2017. “It’s just that for some of my constituents, it’s a big deal.”

Another big deal is the royal flush from casino developers in Bristol, who created a political-action committee called Betting on Virginia Jobs to promote the idea to lawmakers. Del. Mark Levine (D-45) is a fan of casinos, and so he said he sees no problem with taking money from a group because of his long-standing support for gambling, especially poker.

“I might insist they have poker, though,” jokes Levine, whose day job is radio talk show host. “If they just have slot machines, you know, what’s the purpose?”

Top Donors to Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-35)

  • $50,000 from Dominion Energy
  • $40,000 from Baltimore Washington Construction & Public Employees Laborers PAC
  • $25,000 from Betting on Virginia Jobs, a PAC created by casino developers in Bristol
  • $20,000 from Altria
  • $20,000 from Service Distributing Inc
  • $20,000 from Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association
  • $20,000 from Virginia Dental Association
  • $20,000 from Verizon
  • $16,250 from Virginia Auto Dealers Association
  • $15,000 from LoanMax

Top Donors to Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30)

  • $28,000 from attorney Mark Colley at Arnold & Porter LLP
  • $20,000 from Vienna-based private equity investor Edward Hart Rice
  • $14,000 from lobbyist John Ashford at the Hawthorn Group
  • $13,000 from Thomson Hirst, board member of WinVirginia
  • $11,000 from Leslie Wilkes of Alexandria
  • $8,000 from Mark Buchholz at Federal Acquisition Strategies
  • $6,000 from Realtor Gary Dopslaff at TTR Southebys International Realty
  • $6,000 from Baltimore Washington Construction and Public Employees Laborers PAC
  • $6,000 from Richard Moore, executive vice president at Nexus Services
  • $5,800 from Win Virginia

Top Donors to Sen. George Barker (D-39)

  • $20,000 from George Barker
  • $19,000 from Dominion Energy
  • $12,000 from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association
  • $6,000 from the Virginia Gasoline Marketers Council
  • $6,000 from the Virginia Optometric Association
  • $5,000 from the Medical Society of Virginia
  • $4,500 from Richmond-based health-insurance provider Anthem
  • $4,500 from Newport News Shipbuilding
  • $4,500 from Northern Virginia Association of Realtors
  • $4,500 from from Richmond-based law firm Williams Mullen

Top Donors to Del. Charniele Herring (D-46)

  • $36,000 from Dominion Energy
  • $15,000 from the Virginia Auto Dealers Association
  • $13,500 from the Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association
  • $10,000 from the Virginia Cable Telecom Association
  • $8,000 from the Feminist Majority PAC
  • $7,500 from Stephani Sion Erkiletian at Erkiletian Construction
  • $7,035 from Carolyn Mary Grimes at Wade Grimes Friedman Meinken & Lesichner
  • $7,000 from the Commonwealth Challenge Fund
  • $7,000 Eva Trig Hardy of Richmond
  • $7,000 from the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association

Top Donors to Del. Mark Levine (D-45)

  • $7,540 from Anthony Postert, an economist at the U.S. Department of Justice
  • $7,250 from Corneila Sheeahan of Alexandria
  • $5,000 from Clean Virginia Fund
  • $5,000 from Marc Katz at Custom Ink in McLean
  • $3,000 from Betting on Virginia Jobs, a PAC created by casino developers in Bristol
  • $2,000 from attorney Dorathea Peters at Peters-Mullins
  • $2,000 from Michael Jacobs of Alexandria
  • $2,000 from Helen Morris of Alexandria
  • $2,000 from the Virginia Orthopaedic Society
  • $2,000 from the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association

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