Dems Blast Bogus FirstEnergy PAC Campaign Report

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio –Thirteen members of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus have requested that Secretary of State Frank LaRose investigate why FirstEnergy’s political action committee filed a report showing the PAC made donations to their campaigns in July when it didn’t.

None of the House members received money, according to a letter sent Thursday to LaRose signed by the lawmakers, including Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown.

“We want the secretary of state to open an investigation and find out why they [FirstEnergy PAC] would file a fraudulent report,” Lepore-Hagan said Friday.

FirstEnergy PAC filed the campaign report on Aug. 20, which recorded contributions made between July 6 and July 16. Federal authorities filed a complaint that day charging then-Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and four others with what they describe as one of the biggest bribery schemes in Ohio history.

Householder and four others were arrested July 21 for what prosecutors say was a pay-to-play scheme that funneled $61 million from FirstEnergy and its former and present affiliates through Generation Now, a dark money group they say was controlled by Householder.

So-called “dark money” organizations do not have to disclose the source of donations.

Prosecutors say the money was used to influence support for House Bill 6, a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout that protected two nuclear power plants owned by former FirstEnergy subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, now Energy Harbor.

“FirstEnergy PAC has incorrectly and inexplicably reported campaign contributions to various state legislators, many of whom have confirmed that they never received a check – including all of the signatories to this letter,” the lawmakers wrote.

According to the letter, the legislators “respectfully request that your office remove the August 2020 filing from your website while you investigate this matter and that you require FirstEnergy to amend their report immediately so that accurate information can be reported to the public without delay.”

An email seeking comment to the secretary of state’s office was not returned. As of Friday afternoon, the report was still posted on the office’s website.

The Cincinnati Enquirer first published a story Wednesday that revealed FirstEnergy’s PAC reported donations of $158,000 to 65 campaigns to Ohio Republicans and Democrats between July 6 and July 16.

The story quoted several elected officials who said they never received the donations.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said that PAC donations are included in the report once they are placed into the accounting system to generate a check. FirstEnergy opted to hold those checks that were not mailed after the FBI announced its investigation July 21, allowing more time for the company to investigate and assess the situation, she said.

“FirstEnergy has canceled the unmailed checks from July 2020 out of an abundance of caution,” spokeswoman Jennifer Young said in an email. “Future reports to the FEC will properly reflect these voided checks.”

She added that the FirstEnergy PAC would continue to make contributions to candidates and officeholders whose interests “align with our customers, employees and shareholders in Ohio and other states and will fully disclose and report them according to established federal and state requirements.”

Lepore-Hagan voted against HB 6 but acknowledged that she accepted a $500 campaign contribution from FirstEnergy in April 2020. She has since donated that contribution to charity, she said.

She also disclosed an earlier contribution from FirstEnergy in 2015 for $2,000, years before HB 6 was an issue and Householder was out of office.

“I’d spoken out against it [HB 6] and I voted against it,” she said. “I don’t believe in using ratepayers to pay for a billion-dollar company.”

“Why claim they gave these campaign contributions days before the scandal hit when they didn’t do it?” she queries. “Are they trying to throw people off?”

The August campaign report shows two other local lawmakers, Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, and state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, received $1,000 each from FirstEnergy PAC in July.

“I have no knowledge of nor have I ever deposited a single dime from FirstEnergy,” Cutrona said.

Cutrona was appointed in May to serve the remaining term of the late Don Manning, who died unexpectedly in March.

“I was never a part of HB 6, if there was a check, they never mailed it,” he said. “I never received it.”

The letter from House Democrats also requests that LaRose issue a public statement clarifying the error.

“With candidate disclosures not due until October 22, this erroneous report creates unnecessary confusion as Ohioans are seeking to better understand the alleged corrupt activity of FirstEnergy and Larry Householder,” the letter states.

“They’re [FirstEnergy] making it look like we took the money when we did not,” Lepore-Hagan said. “They’re the ones in the middle of the scandal. I’m really angry that this has happened.”

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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