If you want to rank the most powerful people in the state of Virginia, one name is bound to be at the top of the list: Tom Farrell, the the CEO of Dominion Energy, Virginia’s biggest utilities company.
Dominion is the driving force behind the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 600 mile pipeline that would deliver fracked gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. The pipeline has raised intense opposition, and within Virginia there’s growing popular outrage at the influence that Farrell and Dominion wield in the state.
Given all this, LittleSis’s Eyes on the Ties thought it would put a spotlight on Tom Farrell as our newest “Frackateer of the Month.”
By one account, Farrell is the highest paid utilities boss in the world. Dominion’s SEC filings show Farrell raked in almost $44 million in compensation from 2014 to 2016. On top of this, he owns over a million shares of Dominion stock.
Even more, Farrell sits on the boards of some of the most powerful corporations and industry groups in the country. He and Dominion are some of Virginia’s biggest political donors. He has close family ties to power — his son is a state delegate and his brother-in-law is a powerful consultant and former state attorney general.
Style Weekly, a Richmond paper, ranked Farrell as the most powerful person in the city’s economy. The Richmond Times-Dispatch said in a recent profile: “Start a conversation about the most powerful men in Virginia, and Tom Farrell’s name is sure to come up.”
One way to understand Farrell’s influence is to look at his family connections.
Farrell’s brother-in-law, Richard Cullen, is one of the most powerful people in Virginia. He is partner and chairman of McGuireWoods LLP, one of the Virginia-DC area’s most influential lobbying and consulting firms.
Cullen is the former Attorney General of Virginia, and he was on the Advisory Committee for former US Attorney General William Barr (who is also a board member of Dominion). He was also on George W. Bush’s legal team during the Florida recount of the 2000 election.
According to his McGuireWoods page, Cullen is an open, unapologetic defender of large multinationals who specializes in defending corporations from efforts to hold them accountable to the public. Though Cullen has never lobbied for Farrell directly, Dominion has paid McGuireWoods and its revolving door lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars to push the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
The family ties to power don’t stop there for Farrell. His son Peter is an elected member of Virginia’s House of Delegates, which is one half of the state’s legislative branch. He was elected in 2012 with major financial backing from his father. The elder Farrell has given significantly more money — $60,000 in total — to his son than to any other state politician recently. Peter Farrell also sits on the House Commerce and Labor Committees, which oversee utility regulation.
In addition to his family ties, Farrell is also childhood friends with former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.
Farrell uses his huge personal wealth to gain influence in Virginia politics in order to push Dominion’s interests.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Farrell has given $711,077 to state politicians and PACs, mostly Republican ones. This includes:
$71,960 to former Governor Bob McDonnell
$50,000 more to McDonnell through his“Opportunity Virginia PAC”
$35,000 to the YG Action Fund, which supports “Young Guns” conservatives like Eric Cantor
$30,000 to Common Good VA, Governor Terry McAuliffe’s PAC
$25,000 to GOP PAC American Crossroads
In addition, Farrell has given heartily to some of the state’s most vocal pro-pipeline politicans. For example, Richard Saslaw (VA Senate Minority Leader), Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (VA Senate Majority Leader), and M. Kirkland Cox (VA House Majority Leader) all signed an open letter to FERC in support of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Farrell has donated $27,750 to these three politicians ($15,000 to Saslaw, $9,750 to Norment, and $3,000 to Cox). Dominion also ranks as a top donor to these three politicians over the past decade.
Another way to gauge Farrell’s power and influence is to look at his board memberships. Through several positions, past and present, Farrell is intricately tied to the highest echelons of Virginia’s political and social elite, as well major industry groups that hold powerful national sway.
Farrell is the Presiding Director on the board of Altria, the parent corporation of the billionaire tobacco company Philip Morris. Along with Dominion, it’s one of the most powerful corporations in Virginia. In addition to the powerful ties the board membership offers Farrell, it also indicates that, from cigarettes to fossil fuel pollution, he seems quite indifferent about the state of public health.
Farrell is also a director of the Associated Electric & Gas Insurance Services Limited, a multi-billion dollar corporation that describes itself as “a leading mutual insurance company that provides liability and property coverage, as well as related risk management services, to the energy industry.”
Farrell also sits on, or recently sat on, the boards of two major energy industry groups: the Edison Electric Institute and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. These groups are major political donors and employ armies of lobbyists to push the interests of the oil and gas and utilities industries. The New York Times recently exposed how the Edison Electric Institute is leading an effort to rollback the growth of rooftop solar energy, which companies like Dominion see as a threat to their bottom line. And as we recently documented, the Edison Electric Institute is also cozy with the very FERC regulators in charge of approving pipelines like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Farrell’s board memberships with these groups and companies also insert him directly into relationships with leaders of major energy corporations that include Duke Energy, Exelon, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Southern Company, Pacific Gas & Electric, and many more.
Closer to home in Virginia, Farrell currently serves or has served on the boards of a range of business, cultural, and higher education institutions, further attesting to his entrenched relationship to power in the state.
He is the past chairman of the Virginia Business Council, and he also sits on the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board (Virginia Secretary of Finance Ric Brown is also a board member). Farrell has also sat on range of higher education boards, including the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges, and Virginia Commonwealth University. He’s a former rector of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors
These board memberships offer Farrell big insider connections. For example, as a board member of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education, Farrell was joined by the Chief of Staff of longtime Virginia House of Delegates speaker William J. Howell, who has publicly supported the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Another board member was the Director of Operations of Chmura Economics & Analytics, a research group that published a questionable pro-pipeline report that was friendly to Dominion’s interests.
Farrell is also a trustee of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which oversees the historical preservation of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. The foundation’s board has long been something of an elite society for the region’s bigwigs to converge.
For example, other current trustees include Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and Republican politician Carly Fiorina, former Rockefeller Brothers Fund trustee Catharine O’Neill Broderick, and high-up executives of companies like Comcast, WestRock, Wells Fargo, Caterpillar, and slew of investment and consulting firms.
Virginia State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment is also a trustee — and also just happens to be a prominent and vocal ACP supporter who has received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from Dominion and Farrell.
Farrell’s aristocratic airs don’t end with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. An annual Virginia PGA golf charity game was recently rebranded the Dominion Energy Charity Classic. Additionally, Farrell is a big player in the cultural scene of Richmond, the center of power in Virginia. He’s been on the board of Richmond Performing Arts Center, and a major performing arts center, Richmond CenterStage, was renamed the Dominion Arts Center. He’s also a board member of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Suffice to say, a glance at the boards of all these organizations shows that Farrell sits at a uniquely influential positions — at the intersection of political, economic, social, and cultural power — to push his pro-fracking agenda.
And one more thing — Farrell also fashions himself a history buff, and he used his clout to get Virginia to subsidize the production of a 2014 Civil War film that he co-wrote and produced. The film, “Field of Lost Shoes,” currently has a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (though no “top critics” took the time to review it). But at least Farrell’s son Peter — the same son who is an elected member of the House of Delegates — got to have a role in the film.
We’ll end this Frackateer profile of Tom Farrell with a map that visualizes his many powerful ties. With the battle over the ACP intensifying even more now that FERC has given it the nod, and with Farrell openly stating his intentions to expand Dominion’s natural gas production (“a no-turning-back drive to decarbonize, centered on plentiful natural gas”), it’s important that people know about this powerful figure within the energy industry.