- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Employees of Dominion Resources Inc., which owns Virginia’s largest electric utility, are giving big to the campaign of a state lawmaker who sponsored Dominion-friendly legislation earlier this year.

Campaign finance records filed Wednesday show that 21 workers at the Richmond-based energy conglomerate gave Virginia Beach Republican Sen. Frank Wagner $23,000 for his re-election campaign on June 30. It’s one of the largest collective gifts by company employees to a legislative campaign in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data collected by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Wagner was the lead sponsor and chief advocate for legislation the energy company helped draft and push into law earlier this year. The legislation suspends biennial rate reviews of the company’s base rates, which make up the majority of a customer’s bill, until 2022.

The Virginia Beach Republican and Dominion cheered the new law as effective protection against potentially higher rates brought on by federal pollution rules. But critics of the legislation, which include Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring and his Republican predecessor Ken Cuccinelli, said it was bad deal for ratepayers that could allow the company to charge excessively high rates.

Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter and frequent critic of both Wagner and Dominion, said the timing of Dominion’s employees giving to Wagner is “distasteful.”

“Frank Wagner is being rewarded for carrying Dominion’s legislation,” Besa said. “It’s probably a quid pro quo that is legal but is the kind that fosters skepticism in the minds of voters.”

But spokesmen for Wagner and Dominion deny any connection between the donations and the legislation that passed earlier this year.

Wagner campaign manager Scott Weldon said Wagner is “universally appreciated” for his work to lower electric rates.

And Dominion spokesman David Botkins said company employees gave to Wagner because of his views on policy.

“Having elected officials who understand energy policy is critically important, and obviously our employees - who make their own decisions about who to support - know that,” Botkins said.

Wagner is seeking re-election in one of a handful of competitive Senate races that could determine which party controls the upper chamber.

Company employees who gave to Wagner include CEO Thomas Farrell II, electric utility president Paul Koonce, and Senior Vice President Fred Wood.

Dominion is a widely viewed as one of the most powerful businesses in Virginia and is the single biggest corporate donor to state political causes. The company has given nearly $11 million since 2005 and is a major source of money for both major political parties.

Donations by Dominion employees also play an important - if less documented - role in funding Virginia politics. Dominion employees have given more than $1.3 million to state political campaigns since 2005, according to VPAP records. Wagner, who hasn’t faced serious competition for his seat in several cycles, has not reported a donation from a Dominion employee prior to this year, according to VPAP records.

Dominion employees have only given more than $23,000 to legislative campaigns twice before, according to VPAP records. Dominion employees gave $24,000 to Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. in 2011 and $25,000 to House Speaker Bill Howell earlier this year.

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