Manning Campaign May Have Received Boost from Householder Funds

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The late Ohio Rep. Don Manning, R-New Middletown, may have enjoyed a financial boost to his campaign in the final days before the 2018 general election thanks to Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder, according to campaign finance records filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

Householder, along with four other associates, were arrested by federal authorities Tuesday related to a $60 million bribery scandal that centers around a $1 billion bailout of the state’s nuclear power industry.

Manning, who died suddenly in March at age 54, represented the 59th District, which covers most of southern Mahoning County. He won a close election to the seat in 2018 against Poland Township Trustee Eric Ungaro.

According to the government, Householder masterminded a complex scheme to use “dark money” so he could be elected speaker in 2019 and marshal support behind House Bill 6, which called for a ratepayer bailout of two aging nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, now Energy Harbor.

Manning was the sole local state legislator to vote in support of H.B. 6.

Federal authorities say in a criminal complaint that Company A – widely believed to be FirstEnergy Corp., the former parent of FirstEnergy Solutions – secretly distributed more than $60.8 million to a committee operated by Householder, Generation Now. Generation Now would then use the funds as bribe money to “further their political interests.”

In return, the government says Householder and his confederates spread the money in order to ensure passage of H.B. 6 in order to save FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear plants.

A key aspect of the plan, authorities say, was to use the money to target open seats in the legislature during the 2018 election and support electable candidates who pledged support for HB 6 and Householder’s election to speaker.

However, records show that through most of 2018, Manning wasn’t attracting heavy financial support from the state Republican Party. By mid-October, contributions to his campaign totaled just $14,559 for the year – the majority of them from single donors.

Yet Manning’s campaign enjoyed a sudden infusion of cash on Oct. 30, just seven days before the election. Records show that the Ohio Republican State and Central Executive Committee State Candidate Fund pumped a total of $46,949 into Manning’s campaign coffers over five payments on a single day.

Records also show that Householder’s registered political action committee, Friends of Larry Householder, dumped a total of $180,000 in two payments on Oct. 17 and Oct. 23 into the Republican committee candidate fund – less than two weeks before the committee released funds to Manning’s campaign.

A source close to the race said the money was used to finance a last-minute media blitz that included mailers attacking Manning’s opponent, Ungaro. The late surge, the source said, helped tip the election in favor of Manning, who won the seat by 409 votes.

There is no evidence suggesting that Manning knew of Householder’s alleged scheme, nor whether the campaign funds initially came from Householder.

“The Ohio GOP should not be permitted to fund candidates and campaigns with proceeds from a criminal enterprise,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a statement. “Therefore, we are asking the courts and law enforcement to take appropriate action to freeze any accounts associated with Larry Householder and his co-conspirators and prevent further corruption of our political process here in Ohio. In addition, the Ohio Republican Party should also voluntarily freeze these tainted funds, or give them back as they did in 2017, pending the investigation.”

Two weeks after the election, Friends of Larry Householder made a direct contribution of $5,000 to Manning’s campaign fund. In 2020, FirstEnergy contributed another $1,000 to Manning’s coffers shortly before his death.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.