Shortly before the arrest of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and four of his associates on racketeering charges related to a federal corruption investigation, the energy company at the center of the probe donated thousands of dollars to state Rep. Bill Reineke (R-Tiffin) and other Ohio lawmakers.
The investigation involves FirstEnergy, an Akron-based energy company that paid Householder and his associates $61 million to get a $1.5 billion nuclear bailout from taxpayers in what prosecutors are calling the largest bribery scandal in Ohio history.
In the days and weeks leading up to the arrest of Householder and friends, FirstEnergy’s political action committee (PAC) doled out $158,000 to Ohio politicians, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.
$3,500 of that went to Friends of Bill Reineke, the campaign committee of Rep. Reineke, who is now running for the State Senate.
While FirstEnergy’s PAC reported the contributions on an Aug. 20 filing, several politicians throughout the state told the Cincinnati Enquirer this week that their campaigns never received the money:
Among them was Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French, whose campaign says it never got the $7,000 the PAC reported giving on July 16.
“We went through every report, stacks of checks and everything,” French campaign manager Trevor Vessels said. “We never got a check from them. If we do get a check, it will be immediately returned.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Reineke could not be reached Thursday, but the three-term state representative and Tiffin-based car dealership tycoon has not made any pledges to return or donate contributions from FirstEnergy elsewhere thus far.
Michael McGovern, managing director of liberal think tank ProgressOhio, told The Enquirer that the timing of the donations seems like an attempt to buy an “insurance policy” with politicians and smells of “even more corruption.”
“How could this timing possibly be a coincidence? Do FirstEnergy and their Republican enablers really expect us to believe that these donations are anything other than an attempt to buy an insurance policy with GOP legislators and Ohio Supreme Court justices?” he asked. “The whole thing stinks of even more corruption.”
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 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 in July 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.
Leading up to the vote on and passage of the legislation, known as House Bill 6, FirstEnergy’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.