McAuliffe’s Valuable Flip Flop

Democratic candidate for Virginia governor raises money from energy lobbyists after changing position

Terry McAuliffe / AP
June 24, 2013

Democrat Terry McAuliffe attended a fundraiser at the home of a major oil and coal industry lobbyist on Sunday shortly after he abandoned hardline environmentalist positions on major energy issues.

McAuliffe, who is running for Virginia governor, recently said he favors legislation to expand oil drilling off the coast of Virginia.

The announcement marked a high-profile shift from McAuliffe’s position during his unsuccessful 2009 run for governor, when he vehemently opposed efforts to expand offshore drilling.

"I do not support drilling for oil off our coast," he said at the time. But shortly after the release of a poll this year showing that 80 percent of Virginians support new offshore drilling, McAuliffe said he did as well.

Campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin attributed the reversal to "technological progress" that allows the process to be undertaken "in a responsible fashion."

The reversal appears to be paying off for the campaign. McAuliffe attended a fundraiser on Sunday at the home of former Democratic Virginia Rep. L.F. Payne, who is now a lobbyist at McGuireWoods Consulting.

Payne has lobbied on behalf of oil companies since 1999, according to disclosure forms.

One of Payne’s top clients is Dominion Resources Inc., a Richmond-based oil company that has expressed interest in drilling off the Virginia coast if new offshore exploration is approved.

Disclosure forms listed Payne as a lobbyist for Dominion from 1999 through 2012.

Payne registered as a lobbyist in 2013 for the American Petroleum Institute. Disclosure forms list "offshore oil and gas exploration" as one of the issues on which he is lobbying.

Payne also registered in 2012 as a lobbyist for Virginia coal mining company Alpha Natural Resources. Coal policy marks another high-profile reversal in McAuliffe’s policy positions.

As he did with respect to offshore drilling, McAuliffe toed a stronger environmentalist line during his 2009 gubernatorial run, saying Virginia must "move past coal."

"I never want another coal plant built," he said at the time.

McAuliffe said in May he wanted to "make sure we have a healthy workforce of coal, that coal can continue." That reversal also came after polling showed strong support for coal development in Virginia.

McAuliffe’s 13-page policy platform does not mention coal or oil, but his sudden reversals on key energy policies appear to be paying dividends for his campaign’s war chest.