Virginia’s largest power utility is backing away from its funding of a shady political operation aimed at keeping gun owners home on election day.
Robert Blue, Dominion Energy CEO, emailed staff at the company on Monday announcing it would no longer be associated with Accountability Virginia PAC. He pled ignorance about the questionable tactics employed by the PAC, which appear designed to boost Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe in the fast-approaching election. He said the energy giant did not know it would be supporting the group’s deceptive advertising campaign against Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin when it donated six figures to the group.
“This weekend we were reminded that going above and beyond in transparency is necessary but not sufficient,” Blue said in an email obtained by The Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Based on our own disclosures, two news stories highlighted activities of the Accountability Virginia PAC that we would not approve or knowingly support. Although familiar with the Accountability Virginia PAC sponsors, we failed to vet sufficiently the scope of their intended activities.”
He said the utility has asked for its donations back.
With the election less than two weeks away, the company’s walk back underscores how severe backlash to the underhanded tactic has become. It also indicates the attempt to suppress gun voter turnout may have backfired. With just a few points separating McAuliffe and Youngkin in most polling down the stretch of the campaign, whether gun owners turn out in significant numbers for Youngkin could go a long way in determining the winner.
Accountability Virginia, which popped up in July 2021, is attempting to suppress turnout among that group through ads attacking Youngkin from the right for his failure to obtain endorsements from gun-rights groups, including the NRA and Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). The ads have been specifically targeted at areas of the state with more Republican voters. The group has not run any ads against McAuliffe, even though he hasn’t received the endorsements either.
Further, despite appearing to be a pro-gun group, the PAC is run by a liberal consulting firm. It also raises money through ActBlue, the largest liberal fundraising network in the country.
The backlash to Dominion’s involvement with the PAC has already accelerated. VCDL has called for its members to protest the utility’s meddling in the gun-rights debate.
“Let’s make sure Dominion Energy knows that gun owners in Virginia do NOT appreciate the company interfering with our right to self-defense,” the group said in an email on Monday. “Let’s call them, email them, and protest at their office. Let’s make this protest go viral!”
Blue said the company would no longer donate to groups like Accountability Virginia PAC in the future.
“As with any failure in terms of living up to our core values, we will learn from this and implement lessons learned going forward,” he said. “We will not be giving to organizations of this nature in the future.”
VCDL told members in an email on Tuesday it was unsatisfied with Blue’s comments. It took credit for the reversal claiming its protest was effective in getting the company to back down. However, the group said the refund request “fixes nothing” and wants to know what more Dominion plans to do.
“So, Dominion Energy gets their $200,000 back – what about the damage that was done to gun owners with that money?” the group said. “What about those discouraged gun owners who did not vote because of the Accountability Virginia PAC ads? How is Dominion Energy going to make that right?”
UPDATE 10-19-2021 5:30 PM: This piece has been updated to include VCDL’s reaction to Blue’s comments.