The campaign finances of State Rep. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) and a number of other Ohio lawmakers have come under a microscope following the arrest of Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and four of his associates Tuesday on racketeering charges related to a federal corruption investigation.
The investigation involves FirstEnergy, an Ohio energy company that paid Householder and his associates $61 million to get a $1.5 billion nuclear bailout from taxpayers.
The alleged conspiracy, which revolved around the bailout of two failing nuclear power plants in Northern Ohio, is “likely the largest bribery and money-laundering scheme ever in the state of Ohio,” David DeVillers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. No other state legislator besides Householder has been charged with a crime, and DeVillers would not identify any others that may still be under investigation.
An 80-page criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday says that “Company A,” the former FirstEnergy Solutions of Akron, worked to save its failing nuclear plants by funneling $61 million into Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) “dark-money” group controlled by Householder.
The company’s associated political action committees (PACs) also shoveled hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to various lawmakers throughout the state, including Rep. Bill Reineke.
As previously reported by TiffinOhio.net, in the few years leading up to Reineke cosponsoring and voting for House Bill 6, he received $1,500 in campaign contributions from FirstEnergy.
The bill passed the Ohio House of Representatives in May 2019; the Ohio Senate (with amendments) in July 2019; then the House concurred with those changes a week later. The bill was then signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine (R).
FirstEnergy then made additional contributions to Reineke and other lawmakers after they voted for HB 6.
From 2015 to 2020, campaign finance reports reviewed by TiffinOhio.net show Reineke’s political committee, Friends of Bill Reineke, received a total of at least $11,200 in contributions from FirstEnergy PAC, $6,000 of which came after HB 6 made its way through the House and Senate.
Reineke, who represents the majority of Seneca County and all of Sandusky County in the Ohio House, was one of nine representatives who co-sponsored House Bill 6, which bailed out the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy.
Between 2017 and when HB 6 was signed into law in July 2019, FirstEnergy donated nearly $375,000 to 54 different state lawmakers. Of those 54, 41 voted for HB 6, just 11 voted against and two did not cast a ballot, the Ohio Capital Journal reported.
State law sets campaign contribution limits for PACs donating to individual candidates at around $13,300 per reporting period. Many of the top HB 6 backers received donations close to this amount.
House Bill 6 added $1.5 billion in additional taxpayer bailouts to the $10.2 billion that Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions and its former parent company, FirstEnergy Corp, have received from taxpayers since 1999.
Under the legislation, from 2021 until 2027, every Ohio electricity customer has to pay a new monthly surcharge that ranges from 85 cents for residential customers to $2,400 for large industrial plants. Additionally, electricity customers around the state have to pay up to $1.50 monthly, and up to $1,500 per month for commercial and industrial customers, to subsidize coal plants in Ohio and Indiana run by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation.
Federal prosecutors said it was crucial to keep the investigation into Householder and his associates secret until Tuesday. Now, the investigation enters a new phase that might be causing some lawmakers, like Reineke, energy executives, and some others to lose sleep.
“We are not done with this case,” U.S. Attorney DeVillers said. “There were things we couldn’t do before. People we couldn’t interview. People we couldn’t subpoena. Documents and search warrants we couldn’t execute… As of this morning there are a lot of FBI agents knocking on a lot of doors asking a lot of questions, serving lots of subpoenas. That’s going to go on for days.”
FirstEnergy and other interests behind the nuclear bailout also contributed heavily to the effort to elect Householder as Speaker of the House at the beginning of 2019. He ended up winning the support of 26 Republicans and 26 Democrats, while 34 Republicans, including Reineke, and 12 Democrats supported Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell).
Householder, the three lobbyists, and the Householder aide charged Tuesday in the racketeering conspiracy are facing up to 20 years in prison.
A judge agreed to release Householder on bond with conditions, including no firearms, no contact with others listed in the criminal complaint and some travel restrictions. Householder has been ordered to surrender his firearms by 5 p.m. tomorrow.
“All forms of public corruption are unacceptable,” said FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge Chris Hoffman. “When the corruption is alleged to reach some of the highest levels of our state government, the citizens of Ohio should be shocked and appalled.”
Gov. DeWine has called on Householder to “resign immediately.”
Reineke nor his House office could be reached for comment.
Editor’s Note: This story previously stated FirstEnergy paid Householder and his associates $61 million to get a “$1.5 million nuclear bailout.” It has been updated to reflect the accurate bailout amount of $1.5 billion.
Tyler Buchanan and Marty Schladen of the Ohio Capital Journal contributed to this report.