Liberals and conservatives disagree on policy priorities. One thing they ought to agree on, according to April Moore, the Democratic Party nominee in the 26th Senate District, is that money wields too much influence on what lawmakers see as their priorities.
“All of us, conservatives and liberals alike, need to unite to take back the people’s government from the big money power. Our founders were very clear that what they wanted us to protect above all was government by, of and for the people. And that great gift is being threatened,” said Moore, who is challenging Republican incumbent Mark Obenshain in the 26th, which represents Harrisonburg and part of Rockingham County, and stretches into Page County, Rappahannock County, Shenandoah County and Warren County.
Money will clearly play a big role in the 26th, with Obenshain, a well-heeled incumbent who is viewed as one of the top contenders for the 2017 Republican gubernatorial nomination, showing the propensity to raise gobs of cash. The 2013 GOP attorney general nominee reports $319.334 in cash receipts in the 2012-2015 cycle, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, with a long list of big-money contributors, including PACs and corporate donors.
“This is not a race between conservative and liberal, as Mark Obenshain has been trying to portray it. It’s really a matter of, who is our government run by, and who is it run for? Is it going to be big money, or the people?” said Moore, whose campaign has raised $5,995 to date, according to VPAP, with no money coming from PACs or corporate sources.
Moore raised issue with one of Obenshain’s biggest donors, Dominion Virginia Power, which has contributed $7,500 to the state senator in the 2012-2015 cycle, playing the money game to its advantage.
SB 1349, introduced by Republican State Sen. Frank Wagner, freezes Dominion’s base rates for five years, and prevents the state from forcing the company to reimburse customers if the public utility earns excessive profits.
Obenshain was among a large, bipartisan group of senators and delegates who voted to pass the bill this year.
“Here in Virginia, we’ve got Dominion Virginia Power writing its own bills and getting them through the legislature. And Mark Obenshain has worked hand and glove with Dominion,” Moore said.
The General Assembly also sought to set off good feelings with the passage of ethics reforms in the wake of the corruption trial of former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who now faces prison time for his dealings with a prominent business backer. But the reforms were reforms in name only, capping the value of individual gifts to lawmakers at $100 a pop, with a long list of exemptions that renders the new law effectively toothless.
“A lot of what went on before in terms of the lavish trips can still go on. Those things aren’t regulated. Yes, they put a $100 cap on the donations, but not on the number of donations,” Moore said.
“They kind of did a con job on us this time. Like, oh yeah, we passed ethics reform. Well, good, we passed ethics reform. Yay. But it doesn’t really do much to change business as usual.”
Limiting the influence of money on lawmaking needs to be “job one,” said Moore, though even getting a handful of state legislators to agree on that is easier said than done.
“There are many other important issues that we have to deal with, but we cannot deal with them successfully until we get this one, the big money issue, dealt with. If the big corporations really run our legislature, then it doesn’t matter, these other issues, we won’t get anywhere on them,” Moore said.
“Big money is sweeping into our government at all levels, and as long as conservatives and liberals are fighting each other, the will of the people is canceled out, and we’ve got the big money pouring in, and the decisions that are being made favor big business much more than they favor us,” Moore said.
– Story by Chris Graham