When power and influence shift from one side of the political aisle to the other, there are consequences, usually and unfortunately to the voters. The Commonwealth’s politisphere has long been a playpen among corporate competitors for advantage, prominently led by its utility monopoly participants. Over recent decades, as the fossil-fuel and its industry lobby have suffered serious setbacks and competition from alternative energy advocates, Virginia’s Dominion Energy has been a focus of tons of negative press and pushback in the political arena. Dominion is the poster child for the canard “The Virginia Way.”
In September 2019, the Democratic Party of Virginia announced it would no longer accept campaign contributions from Dominion. This bold declination was made possible, in part, by sizable monetary backing from a billionaire hedge fund manager and his wife. Their contributions are said to have made possible the successful takeover of the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, as well as bankrolling statewide candidates.
In September 2019, the Democratic Party of Virginia announced it would no longer accept campaign contributions from Dominion. . . . About six days prior to Election Day on June 8, a number of gasps were heard across the Old Dominion when campaign finance reports detailed a $100,000 contribution from Dominion to the [Lt. Gov. candidate Hala] Ayala coffers.
The billionaire source funding was channeled in sizable chunks through an advocacy organization called Clean Virginia. Its opponents have been offering criticism by way of television ads proclaiming that its goals will cause Virginia to become reliant upon power sources that make it vulnerable to failure like that of Texas during its recent grid failure. At the same time, some of the criticism is noted to be that from Democrats themselves, who characterized the funding source as “dark money billionaires” for backing two challengers to Democratic House incumbents.
For the June 2021 Democratic primary, 40 sitting legislators pledged to refuse contributions from Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power. The pledges were expressed in responses to questionnaires circulated by Clean Virginia. For that commitment, in the contest for lieutenant governor, the advocacy group contributed $25,000 to Hala Ayala, who had relinquished her delegate seat. Ayala had made the same pledge in her 2019 candidacy for the General Assembly.
About six days prior to Election Day on June 8, a number of gasps were heard across the Old Dominion when campaign finance reports detailed a $100,000 contribution from Dominion to Ayala’s campaign coffers. Clean Energy was not only aghast but vowed to launch a $125,000 digital ad campaign against her. That threat could not alter the thousands of votes cast in early balloting. A competitor for the lieutenant governor position complained, to no avail, “Not only is Ayala allowing her campaign to be bought by Dominion, her campaign didn’t reveal this fact until six days before the election, leaving little time for voters to know of her broken promise.” In fact, there was no time for any of the thousands of early voters to reconsider.
A few days after the results of the primary showed Ayala winning the nomination with 37.55% (about 178,300 votes) in a multiple field, the victor offered her rationale for the about face: “It’s about talking to voters, right? And making sure we communicate and get our message out because it overwhelmingly resonates, as you’ve seen,” insisting that her views and perspective on energy and utility regulation had not changed. Her statement astonishingly concluded with, “My record is the only thing that I have to show my accountability.”
A few days after the results of the primary showed Ayala winning the nomination with 37.55% (about 178,300 votes) in a multiple field, the victor offered her rationale for the about face: “It’s about talking to voters, right? And making sure we communicate and get our message out because it overwhelmingly resonates, as you’ve seen,” insisting that her views and perspective on energy and utility regulation had not changed.
Ayala made no reference to the fact that her flip probably had no effect upon the primary results. Nor did the last-minute infusion of money alter the outcome. Voters, particularly those voting early, could not rescind their support. Instead, she emphasized “talking to voters” to “communicate and get out our message” as key criteria in accepting the contribution. How the 11th-hour Dominion bucks would enhance that effort was not explained. Nor did she state whether the contribution would help her campaign in the post-primary period. Ayala’s hypocrisy is palpable but far exceeded by her cynicism as it presents a message to all voters, not only Democrats, that campaign promises are not genuine. To Democrats, the cynicism is heightened by an implicit dare to vote for a Republican opponent in November.
Ms. Ayala blithely asserted, “People change their minds all the time” when questioned about her reversal. That change of mind, however, was simply not an option for those who voted early. Virginia Democrats have benefitted substantially from early voting, making Ayala’s change of mind cast a shadow on early voting. Moreover, how shall DPVA reconcile its stance regarding rejection of utility monopolies? The opposition is certain to ensure that November voters are reminded of the duplicity of the candidate and the party.
With nearly five months before the general election, it is not too late for the candidate to return the contribution and repair her ethical and moral lapse in the eyes of the voters. It is not only the honorable thing to do, but may be the only viable solution. Restoring the faith of voters by acknowledging error is a more acceptable position than campaigning with a shadow overhead. Voter appreciation for such honesty is worth far more than $100,000.