Dem Megadonor Using Clean Energy PAC as Front to Turn Virginia Blue

Michael Bills donated more than $2 million in state election

A session on the senate floor at the Virginia State Capitol / Getty Images
October 28, 2019

Hedge fund manager Michael Bills and his wife Sonjia Smith, the largest sources of individual political donations this cycle in Virginia, used a green energy PAC to push money to Democratic candidates.

Bills—a former Goldman Sachs VP who now runs the Bluestem Asset Management LLC hedge fund—and Smith have spent over $2 million on the Virginia elections. The donations came through direct contributions to Democratic candidates as well as large investments in the Clean Virginia Fund, a PAC purportedly focused on fighting energy monopolies that has given predominately to Democrats.

The couple has made more political donations in the past two years than in the previous decade.

From 2008 to 2017, Bills gave just over $1 million to Virginia candidates and causes while Smith gave about $1.5 million. In 2018 and 2019, Bills cut checks for slightly more than $2 million while Smith donated roughly $1 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a website that tracks political spending in the state. Bills's direct contributions to Democratic campaigns range from $2,000 to $90,000.

In addition to writing five-figure checks to Democratic candidates, Bills founded the nonprofit Clean Virginia, which operates in tandem with a political action committee, Clean Virginia Fund. Both organizations are focused on targeting the state's largest energy provider, Dominion Energy.

Bills provided 90 percent of all donations to the PAC, while 25 other donors provided the remaining 10 percent.

"In 2018, I founded Clean Virginia in an attempt to offset the undue and harmful influence that Dominion Energy and other utility monopolies have over Virginia politics," a statement from Bills on the Clean Virginia website says.

"We are very transparent about our funding and Michael Bills' involvement," Clean Virginia spokeswoman Cassady Craighill told the Washington Free Beacon by email. "Michael Bills launched Clean Virginia and an associated PAC to protect the environment and Virginians from utility monopolies abusing their power."

"We do not fundraise, but actively invite a list of more than 40,000 supporters to take action for clean government and clean energy including signing petitions and contacting their state representatives," she added later.

Clean Virginia, Bills, and Smith gave money to 88 Democratic candidates, all of whom pledged not to take donations from utility companies, the Virginia Mercury reported last week.

In mid-September, the Democratic Party of Virginia voted to swear off political donations from Dominion Energy. Less than three weeks later, Bills donated $200,000 to the party.

The Mercury reported that the group announced a single donation to a Republican, state senator Amanda Chase, but refused to endorse her. Clean Virginia listed Chase and three other Republican legislators among the officials who refuse to take donations from Dominion Energy. At time of writing, the Virginia Public Access Project does not list a donation from Bills's PAC to any of the four Republicans.

Some Republican candidates say the electricity provider is something of a straw man, and that Bills is only concerned about flipping the balance of power to Democrats.

Republican state senator David Suetterlein, who has a history of challenging Dominion Energy during his legislative career, said a Clean Virginia donation to his Democratic challenger is telling.

"There's no way they didn't know about my record," he told the Mercury. "I think their only goal is to have a Democratic majority." Suetterlein is on Clean Virginia's list of anti-Dominion officials.

Bills and Smith join a number of major Democratic donors and organizations pouring money into Virginia, including Tom Steyer, George Soros, and Michael Bloomberg's gun control PAC. Democrats look to win majorities in both legislative chambers in the November election, in addition to having a Democratic governor. Democrats haven't held all three levers of the state's government for 25 years.

Published under: 2020 Election , Virginia