On Tuesday 7/21, my wife and I were tuning into the Governor’s twice weekly Coronavirus update. We were surprised by an unusual face, that of U.S. Attorney Dave DeVillers. In an energetic and almost nervous style he was discussing “Company A” and it’s provision of funds to “Generation Now.” On the bottom of the screen I read, “Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder charged with corruption.” I laughed and clapped in surprise and amazement. What a suitable fall for a man so overblown with himself and his own high-jinx. See his infamous campaign add below.
Householder is a Republican, and here in Ohio you can say, “of course he is.” Republicans have Ohio state politics wrapped up. They hold every state-wide office and control the majority in both legislative houses. All they want to do is cut taxes, limit abortion, get re-elected, and expand gun rights.
For the last two decades they have achieved this control through the ‘skillful’ drawing of voting districts. They play Ohio’s rural conservative voters off against our Democratic leaning big city populations. They isolate and concentrate Ohio Democrats in as few a districts as possible while assuring Republican majorities in most. It’s called “gerrymandering” and has been ruled unconstitutional and ordered corrected but not before the upcoming election. After all, Ohio does pretty much split 50/50 in all Presidential elections, and voted for Obama twice! Yet, Republicans have state politics in their pocket.
Householder is from a family farm in the area of Glenford, just east of Columbus. No one ever hears of Glenford and here is why: population 175 and has experienced a 30% decline in the past decade. He once quipped in response to “social distancing”, that from where he comes, people been “doing it all their lives.”
“Company A” is Akron, Ohio based “FirstEnergy.” They are a power company that serves customers in six states, from Ohio and to the east. They are ranked as about the U.S.’s 200th largest corporation by Fortune magazine with revenue of over $14.5 billion in 2016. They have two aging nuclear power plants in northern Ohio along Lake Erie. These plants are no longer profitable in this era of cheap natural gas and coal. FirstEnergy (now renamed Energy Harbor) threatened to close these plants costing Ohio 1,400 jobs, 15% of Ohio’s generated electricity, and loss of these non-carbon polluting energy sources. They approached Ohio legislators seeking relief. No one, yet, from this company has been charged with any crime, but the investigation is on-going. and “more charges will be forthcoming.”
It is not clear to me, from information so far released, how the initial contact and proposals started with “Team Househoder”, the name for The Speaker’s campaign group. In 2017, a social welfare non-profit named, “Generation Now“, was started by a “Team” member and began receiving the first payments from FirstEnergy. They came to total just over $60 million by time of the indictment. It is “the largest corruption and bribery case in the history of Ohio” said U.S. Attorney Devillers. He almost chuckled, it seemed, as he reviewed the scope and audacity of the scheme. A single hidden source channeling money to multiple dummy recipients and then on to Generation Now and “not a dime was spent on social welfare” the investigation so far has revealed, DeVillers claimed.
An exact account of all the spending is unclear. The 60 page indictment contends about $400,000 went to Householder personally and was used to pay off credit cards and make payments on two of the three homes (one in Florida) he owns. A significant portion was used to contribute to not only his own re-election but also the election of his personal supporters around the state who were pledged to support his speakership. This included attack ads against Democrats and unfriendly Republicans, and these possibly without knowledge or coordination of benefiting campaigns. The charges include racketeering and money laundering, with four accomplices to Householder so far indicted.
A vicious battle ensued around the state when the bail-out bill — called “House Bill 6” — was proposed, eventually passed and then challenged with a revoke by ballot petition. Stories circulated in the news that signature-gathers for the recall effort were being threatened, and some being bought off to quit and return to their out-of-state homes, return ticket provided. In the indictment it is reported that $450,000 dollars was used by Householder to hire 15 signature-gathering firms to not do anything! They were hired to not be hired by the pro-recall supporters!
Interestingly, the bail-out bill would cost “most Ohio residential users” 85 cents a month. Why, I drop $0.85 a month into the lining of my favorite couch, but state-wide and over a year it was estimated to come to around $170 million, plus there were some other beneficial strings attached to benefit FirstEnergy.
Such is politics in the O-H-I-O!
Happily, I can report that thus far our sitting Republican Governor, who I like, has not been shown to be involved. He is a Moderate Republican and a sincere public servant (it seems), and that is a dying breed worth appreciating, in my opinion. He has done very well in his Coronavirus efforts and attempted Gun Regulation following the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio —the home town of my wife and I!