by Shaun Kenney
“I went, wait a minute, they literally are writing the laws for a couple million dollars a year in contributions and some lobbyists, I can do that.”
— Michael Bills, “A multimillionaire sets out to conquer Dominion,” Virginia Mercury (October 2019)
And so he did.
The former Goldman Sachs hedge fund billionaire proceeded to distribute $1.7 million in 2019 to 88 Democrat candidates and committees, making him by far the largest political donor in the state.
Add on the $952,000 his wife – Sonjia Smith — spent on various Democrat candidates and the couple created quite the pile of legislative chits.
According to VPAP the marital duo (also known as the Soros’ of Charlottesville) have given just under $8 million to progressive candidates over the years. The end result was the termination of a business-oriented Republican-led majority and the transition to a radical Democratic-controlled agenda marshaled by progressive interests.
Quickly, Bills moved to secure the House of Delegate’s Speaker seat by backing Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg) in a caucus vote. Interestingly enough, it’s a bit of lobbying chicanery that won’t show up on their lobbyist disclosure (since that’s not Clean Virginia).
Wink, wink. The gambit failed.
It probably doesn’t help Clean Virginia’s cause that Michael Bills and former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli are joined at the hip — one buying up, the other selling out — in their mutual hate for utilities, but when you’re a billionaire you’re in for the long haul.
Yet in the 2020 session, while Bills and his pack of handpicked political hacks and assorted lobbyists began pursuing a legislative agenda to “clean up” (financially?) the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond during the regular session.
While that effort scored a big bi-partisan goose egg, little did Bills realize there would be a convenient pandemic to get legislators back to town this summer for the “long parliament” where nothing gets done, but plenty of promises are being made. Which means thanks to the COVID pandemic, Michael Bills’ nascent political machine is sizing up an opportunity for another bite at the apple in the current special session.
Yet Clean Virginia finds themselves in a bit of a pickle after being criticized for helping Amanda “3/5ths” Chase (I-Chesterfield) and making common cause with Cuccinelli — now semi-ensconced with the Trump Administration and anathema in most Virginia political circles — Bills urgently needed Republican cover.
Unfortunately, former Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb (R-Salem) was just the guy Bills was looking for: a former Republican elected official willing to do the bidding of “the George Soros of Charlottesville” for a proverbial 30 pieces of silver.
If the pairing sounds odd, that’s because Habeeb’s political career was defined by his support for Dominion Energy and his opposition to progressive politics. Habeeb was an enthusiastic supporter of the 2015 rate increase freeze and the 2018 Grid Transformation and Security Act — both the bane of Michael Bills — before resigning from office.
But that was then.
With a new government relations practice at the law firm of GentryLocke, Habeeb is now living in the affluent West End of Richmond picking up clients deeply interested to cash-in on his relationships as a former Republican elected official.
Yet what makes Habeeb’s discovery of the eco-progressive religious fervor more perplexing is that Habeeb is out there carrying water for the leftist stalwart and Democratic nominee for Attorney General, Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) — an ironclad progressive who has practically been bankrolled by Clean Virginia.
The specific bill is HB5088, which would force Dominion to absorb bad debt from ratepayers, thus placing an undue burden on existing ratepayers. Mind you, there wasn’t even a problem — Dominion was practically bending over backwards to provide generous repayment schedules without interest, refusing to cut off power, and working with those who were struggling to make ends meet.
Naturally, with a solution looking for a problem, Habeeb struggled to get Republicans to co-patron the bill. To add disappointment to shame, Democratic leadership in the House chose not to hear the bill in committee at all.
Not bad, not bad at all.
Yet this did not dampen Bills’ hunger for a piece of flesh. In a press release late yesterday, Clean Virginia issued a statement:
“Currently, Wednesday’s meeting is the only scheduled convening of the House Labor & Commerce Committee, but there is nothing stopping House Democratic Leadership from taking urgent action on Virginia’s utility debt crisis. We urge Speaker Filler-Corn to do so. Refusing a fair hearing for a bill that would inject nearly $400 million of Virginians’ own money back into the economy in this moment of crisis is unacceptable.”
Except no one really buys that narrative even in the slightest degree.
So what’s unusual about this story? Well, really nothing — it’s the same swampy behavior we have tolerated from Richmond politicians for decades.
We have a billionaire – Michael Bills — publicly admitting he is buying and selling legislators and lobbyists in an effort to “Clean Virginia” (sic). Then we have a former legislator – Greg Habeeb — who voted one way in office and then turned around and lobbied against the same issues he previously supported.
Legal? – Sadly, yes.
Conflict? – Probably not.
Ethical? – Not in the slightest.
Corrupt? – If you believe Bill’s rhetoric… yes.
The real speculation here is how far Habeeb would have gotten if former GOP Speaker Kirk Cox and Terry Kilgore, former chairman the House Labor & Commerce committee got to hear his legislation.
Of course, Michael Bills saw to that problem by switching out parties. So too, it seems, has Greg Habeeb.
– – –
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.