Ohio lawmaker ousted as speaker over nuclear bribery scandal

Source: By Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Ohio House voted 90-0 to oust Speaker Larry Householder yesterday, moments after a federal grand jury indicted the Republican lawmaker and four others for allegedly running a $60 million racketeering scheme to pass and defend an unpopular energy law.

The 43-page indictment provides more details about Householder’s plan to reclaim leadership of the Ohio House and use the position to pass H.B. 6, which provided $210 million a year in nuclear and coal subsidies and effectively nullified the state’s clean energy standards.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and other elected officials have called on the Legislature to repeal H.B. 6 (Energywire, July 24). And yesterday’s House votes to unseat Householder as speaker and elect a replacement were the first steps in the process.

Minutes before the House voted to remove Householder as speaker, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio announced that Householder and four associates were indicted in a racketeering conspiracy, along with Generation Now, Householder’s dark money group that allegedly received millions of dollars from FirstEnergy Corp.

Also indicted were lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes, former Ohio GOP Chairman Matthew Borges, and political strategist Jeffrey Longstreth. All are accused of using money from FirstEnergy and its affiliates to help Householder pass a law that delivers $1.3 billion in power plant subsidies (Energywire, July 22).

“Dark money is a breeding ground for corruption,” U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said in a statement, adding that the government’s investigation is continuing.

Householder, 61, and the other individuals each faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The indictment lays out how Householder and the other alleged conspirators took in $64 million through Generation Now — 93% of it from FirstEnergy and its affiliates — and used the money to build support for Householder as speaker by helping elect nearly two dozen loyal House candidates.

As speaker, Householder helped write H.B. 6, formed a new House subcommittee, appointed members of “Team Householder” to the committee and then arranged for votes to secure passage of the bill in the House.

Payments from FirstEnergy to Generation Now were funneled to wages, rent and legal fees for Householder’s enterprise; for political advertising and campaign staff; to pressure public officials to support H.B. 6; and to enrich Householder and his associates, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors allege that Householder received more than $400,000 that was used to settle a personal lawsuit, to pay for costs associated with a Florida home and to pay off thousands of dollars of credit card debt.

Money also went to defeat a ballot initiative that would have overturned the law, according to the indictment. The effort was run through a front company, Ohioans for Energy Security.

Ultimately, organizers of the ballot initiative failed to collect enough signatures to put the measure before Ohio voters.

On Tuesday, a bill sponsored by more than three dozen lawmakers was filed in the Ohio House to repeal H.B. 6. Similar legislation has also been filed in the Senate.

Rep. Michael O’Brien, one of the House bill’s Democratic sponsors, said H.B. 6 “was founded on and funded by a scheme to defraud taxpayers and circumvent the will of the people of our state. It should be repealed. Recent events have been a black eye for our institution, and our legislation is the first step toward repairing the damage to the public trust.”

Ohio Republican lawmakers have already voted in a new speaker.

Rep. Robert Cupp, who voted a year ago for H.B. 6, was elected in a partisan 55-38 House vote yesterday and sworn in immediately after.

The former state senator and Ohio Supreme Court justice said it is “imperative to restore the public trust” in the wake of the ongoing public corruption scandal.

Cupp also referenced the need to revisit legislation “tainted by alleged corruption” but didn’t elaborate on how soon that might happen or whether he favors replacing the bill with similar policies.