Lawmakers, Interest Groups Weigh in on Householder Arrest

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The arrests of Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates Tuesday in a $60 million bribery case drew sharp reactions from lawmakers and interest groups last night. 

The arrests were in connection to the passage of House Bill 6 last year, which provided a taxpayer-funded bailout to FirstEnergy Corp.’s two nuclear power plants in Ohio. 

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-58 Youngstown joined her fellow Democrats and several Republicans in calling for Householder to step down.  (READ 82-page criminal complaint.)

“In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. However, if these charges prove to be true, it confirms that there is a culture of corruption that exists under Ohio’s one-party rule,” Lepore-Hagan said in a statement. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Guilty or not, Speaker Householder needs to resign immediately.”

She also said that Ohioans “deserved better” than House Bill 6, which she characterized as “a corporate bailout on the backs of working people that stripped our state of job opportunities and progress in renewable energy.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman also called on Householder to resign in a statement on Twitter. 

“Ohioans have every right to expect the highest standards of ethical conduct from their elected leaders. Building greater trust between the people and their leaders is essential to our democracy,” he said. 

The statement prompted a backlash on the social media platform, as critics contrasted Portman’s position on Householder with his vote not to convict President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial earlier this year.  

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, did not weigh in on whether Householder should resign. He instead took the opportunity to call for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the special counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election to benefit Trump.  

“The Department of Justice, under any administration, must prosecute those who break the law – regardless of party affiliation. Therefore, I expect to see the DOJ go after those who perpetrated the Russian Collusion hoax upon the American people,” Johnson said. “We can’t have a two-tiered system of justice – one for Republicans and another for Democrats. We’re still waiting.”

Both the Buckeye Institute, a conservative Columbus-based think tank, and the American Wind Energy Association, called on the Ohio General Assembly to repeal H.B. 6. 

“Ohio House Bill 6 was an ugly corporate bailout from the beginning, and it hasn’t gotten any prettier,” the Buckeye Institute said. “The Buckeye Institute calls upon policymakers to rectify the previous error and take decisive action to move the state forward and far away from subsidizing crony companies while sticking ordinary Ohioans with higher energy bills.”

“The legislative push to bail out legacy generation and roll back Ohio’s renewable energy commitments was always against the will of Ohioans, who overwhelmingly support renewable energy,” said Andrew Gohn, the American Wind Energy Association’s eastern state affairs director. 

“It now appears that the passage of this bill was not just against the will of the people, but also may have involved serious and possibly criminal impropriety,” he continued. “We call for a full examination of the circumstances surrounding this attack on clean energy and for Gov. [Mike] DeWine and the legislature to pause implementation of H.B. 6 and ultimately repeal this harmful and regressive legislation.” 

Common Cause Ohio called for greater campaign finance disclosure requirements and its executive director, Catherine Turcer, pledged the organization would work with Republicans and Democrats “to find a path for strong money-in-politics transparency reform.” 

Had such measures been in place, they would have stopped Householder’s alleged scheme “in its tracks,” Common Cause said.  

“Ohioans have a right to an accountable government and to know who is trying to influence lawmakers, their votes, and opinions. The federal investigation into Generation Now and today’s arrest of Speaker Householder are just the latest example of why the Ohio legislature needs to take immediate action to increase campaign finance disclosure,” Turcer said. 

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Tuesday that his office had referred 19 of the criminal complaints to the Ohio Elections Commission, including the  acceptance of direct corporate contributions, failure to file a complete and accurate campaign finance statement and converting campaign funds for personal benefit, for campaign finance violations.

“It’s past time for the Ohio legislature to take action to increase transparency of political spending and stop allowing ‘dark money’ to distort the democratic process,” she continued. “The source of campaign funding information helps voters examine the motivation of ads they see on TV and the internet. Shining the light on ‘dark money’ will also encourage those funding these egregious ads to be more accountable.”

Pictured at top: Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder leaves the federal courthouse after an initial hearing following charges against him and four others alleging a $60 million bribery scheme Tuesday in Columbus.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.