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Leahy: Constitutional Issues Arise with a Dominion Contribution Ban

There’s an old saying in Virginia politics that Dominion Energy has the best General Assembly money can buy. It’s not entirely wrong. Dominion’s sizable campaign checkbook appears to have generated [1] some solid returns [2] for the regulated utility over the years, regardless of which party holds a majority in Richmond.

Ending the utility’s influence over state politics is the aim of three bills pending in the state House and Senate. Though the details vary, the aim is the same: banning political contributions from Dominion.

The politics are simple: Dominion is a behemoth that tends to get its way on a host of issues, thanks, in no small part, ban backers day, to the company’s deep pockets. Those deep pockets can get the company into deep trouble, as happened in the 2021 gubernatorial race. Some Dominion executives gave a lot of money to a PAC that ran a voter suppression effort [3] in GOP-friendly parts of the state.

That effort backfired — spectacularly — on the funders. That failure might possibly [4] have convinced Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), the target of those PAC ads, to back a ban.

We’ll see about that. We’ll also have to see whether there’s any broad enthusiasm in the General Assembly for a ban. Leaders in the House and Senate have been quiet [5] on the idea, and whether the issue matters — at all — with voters is an open question.

But there’s a much bigger question: Would such a ban be constitutional?

According to Eric Wang, a campaign finance attorney and partner at the Gober Group, banning contributions from state-regulated utilities such as Dominion “present[s] a unique situation.”

“Having a natural and singular monopoly could strengthen the legal justification for enacting a ban on contributions from the sector,” Wang said, “whether that is based on an anti-corruption or consumer protection rationale.”

Continue reading here [6].