Dominion Energy gave lieutenant governor candidate Delegate Hala Ayala (D-Prince William) $100,000 at the end of May, according to new campaign finance reports published by The Virginia Public Access Project. That angered anti-utility activist group Clean Virginia which had contributed $25,000 to Ayala’s campaign; Ayala had committed to not accept money from the utility.
The Wednesday release brought a spark of controversy into the Democratic primary with less than a week left of voting, and Clean Virginia is retaliating with a $125,000 ad campaign against Ayala, according to a press release.
“My decisions in elected office have always been based on what’s best for Virginia families, and as Lieutenant Governor, that’s exactly what I’ll keep doing,” Ayala said in a statement to the AP.
“Del. Ayala’s actions are uniquely disappointing and deceptive – she has campaigned for statewide office on a promise to Virginians that she would hold polluting utility monopolies accountable and then accepted a massive contribution from Dominion Energy. That is not leadership — it is desperation,” Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore said in a press release.
Democratic pundit Ben Tribbett told WVTF that new candidates take the Clean Virginia pledge, and some regret it later. “Every new candidate is going to take it but some people are going to become uncomfortable with it over time and want to flip out from underneath it,” he told WVTF.
Clean Virginia is funded by Michael Bills; Bills and his wife Sonjia Smith have used personal donations and PACS to influence candidates in other races, including efforts to primary Democratic incumbents Delegate Candi King (D-Prince William) and Delegate Steve Heretick (D-Portsmouth.)
In reports covering April 2 through May 27, King’s opponent Pamela Montgomery received over $550,000 from Smith and Bills-funded PACS the Clean Virginia Fund and the Commonwealth Forward PAC. Montgomery received a total $585,851 in donations during that period; King only raised $165,152 in the same period.
King’s campaign fought back with a mailer calling Bills and Smith “dark money billionaires” sent by the House Democratic Caucus, according to The Virginia Mercury, which has ties to Bills and Smith. The Virginia Mercury reported that spokespeople for top House Democratic Caucus officials said leadership did not approve the mailer.
Heretick’s Democratic opponent Nadarius Clark has received $445,899 from Smith, Commonwealth Forward, and Clean Virginia. Heretick received $90,000 from Dominion Energy in the latest reporting period, according to VPAP.
The situation illustrates the conflict in the Democratic Party — many Virginia Democrats have taken the Clean Virginia pledge, but in 2021 Dominion Energy has given $335,000 to some Democratic candidates and the House Democratic Caucus and the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, according to VPAP.
In the April 1 through May 27 reporting period, GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin reported $8.3 million, including $6.5 million in loans from himself. In the Democratic primary, Terry McAuliffe reported about $2.9 million in receipts during that period, with a campaign balance of about $3.3 million. Jennifer Carrol Foy’s gubernatorial campaign came next, with about $1 million in receipts and a May 27 balance of $281,657.
Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond)’s gubernatorial campaign also reported about $1 million, with a May 27 ending balance of $60,464. Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas) reported $31,574 in receipts with a $55,690 balance, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax reported $4,040 and a balance of $11,863.
83,117 people have voted already in the primary, compared to 26,575 in 2017 according to VPAP. The last day of voting is June 8.
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