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Mailbag: Answering reader questions about Householder and the bribery scandal

Tyler Buchanan, Ohio Capital Journal

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Clad in camouflage from head to toe, Larry Householder aimed his weapon at a television screen across an empty field.

That box had it coming, a Householder voiceover intimated, what with all the unfair attacks leveled against him.

“A dark money group is airing deceitful ads against me,” Householder said. “They’re anti-Trump gun grabbers and they use the kind of swamp politics you and I aim to end.”

Householder evidently aimed poorly. The above campaign advertisement was posted to YouTube in April 2018. It is now alleged Householder was, at that same time, orchestrating a racketeering scheme centered on clever use of dark money groups — the very type of organization he publicly claimed to be fighting against.

The dust has settled a bit following Householder’s arrest on July 21 following a lengthy, covert investigation by the FBI. He and four others are alleged to have been involved in what’s being called the biggest bribery scandal in Ohio history, which federal investigators say was carried out to enact a nuclear bailout (House Bill 6) to benefit the former FirstEnergy Solutions of Akron.

Ohio news outlets have continued digging into the financial connections between HB 6 proponents and those in state government.

We asked Ohio Capital Journal readers to pose questions they still had about the situation.

Question: Who has, or intends to, donate/refund money they were given from Householder’s scheme?

Answer: Several candidates who have received donations from Householder are giving it back, but they weren’t involved in House Bill 6.

In the years before HB 6 was passed, Householder’s enterprise worked to elect a slate of Householder-friendly candidates during the 2018 campaign cycle. The initial goal was to ensure Householder would have enough votes to become Speaker of the House in 2019.

After he became speaker, many of these allies proved to be supporters of the nuclear bailout bill.

That was the previous election cycle. For the current one, Householder’s committee had donated the max amount of $13,292 to six challengers who were vying to be elected to the Statehouse.

One of the six lost their primary bid. Of the other five on the ballot this November, four of them have committed to returning the money or donating it to charity: Tom Young, Marilyn John, Brian Stewart and Brian Lampton. The fifth is Jean Schmidt, a former congresswoman running for state representative, who has not commented on the matter.

A number of other officeholders who have received donations from the FirstEnergy Political Action Committee have similarly pledged to give it away.

Question: Is Householder still planning on running for election this fall?

Answer: Apparently. He’s given no indication he will not run.

Householder has resisted calls from both parties to resign his seat in the legislature following his arrest. He was removed as speaker and is now just another Republican member.

Householder is currently serving his second consecutive two-year term. He is eligible for two more. As of this writing, Householder remains on the ballot as the 72nd District Republican nominee. No Democrat filed to challenge him.

At this point, only Householder can choose to take himself out of the running. If there are any behind-the-scenes efforts to pressure him to withdraw, those forces only have a few days left.

The date to watch is Aug. 10. That is the final day in which the Republican Party can choose a replacement candidate to fill a vacancy should Householder choose to withdraw.

If he stays in the race through Election Day on Nov. 3, he wins by default. But if he withdraws between Aug. 11 and then, his party is stuck.

Which could leave an opening for …

Question: Who is running against Householder as a write-in candidate?

Answer: So far, Jay Conrad and Robert Leist have filed to compete for the 72nd District seat as write-in candidates.

The deadline to file is Aug. 24.

Conrad is from Householder’s native Perry County, while Leist is from Coshocton. The district includes Perry, Licking and Coshocton counties east of Columbus.

In essence, their candidacies rely on the scenario of Householder withdrawing after it’s too late for the Republican Party to pick a replacement.

This would leave the Republican and Democratic parties both without candidates, opening the door for a write-in to win. We wrote more about the write-in candidates last week.

Question: Have there been any discussions about state-level campaign finance reform to curb the influence of dark money?

Answer: Yes there have.

We wrote about one such effort this week involving state Reps. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park. They sponsored a bill together shortly after Householder’s arrest, and recently met with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to discuss how they could expand the legislation to address further campaign finance issues.

The main component seeks to fix the problem of “dark money groups.” In Ohio, all political candidates have to publicly disclose their donors. But certain organizations which register as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups are not required to disclose their funding or spending by virtue of their tax status.

Manning, Miranda and LaRose want to end that loophole to require all election and public policy spending to be publicly disclosed going forward. You can read more about their House Bill 737 proposals here.

Manning said on Monday that new Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, has expressed initial support for the bill.

Two other state representatives have similar ideas in mind. Reps. Bride Rose Sweeney, D-Cleveland, and Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, introduced a bill they are calling The Ohio Anti-Corruption Act.

It too would require nonprofit groups to publicly disclose who funds them and how their money is spent. It also calls for banning companies with “foreign owners and decision makers … from spending in our elections.”

Question: How deep are the connections with DeWine?

Answer: We’re not entirely sure, but there are some.

DeWine signed HB 6 into law the same day it was approved by the state legislature. He has received nearly $100,000 in campaign donations from the FirstEnergy PAC over the past two decades.

Most notable is that Dan McCarthy, the DeWine administration’s legislative affairs director, previously served as a lobbyist for FirstEnergy. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported shortly after Householder’s arrest that McCarthy once led a dark money group accused of funnelling millions of dollars to another group tied to Householder.

DeWine has denied any wrongdoing by McCarthy, and has said no one in his administration was contacted by the FBI as part of the initial investigation leading to Householder’s arrest.

Ohio Capital Journal reporter Marty Schladen wrote more about McCarthy’s role in the governor’s administration on Wednesday.

Got a question about the Householder scandal, the state legislature or general politics?
Send them to 
tbuchanan@ohiocapitaljournal.com.

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