Corporations are licensed by the state. FirstEnergy’s rampant public corruption should cost license
“Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow.” -Abraham Lincoln, 1864
“Order the dissolution of a corporation organized under the laws of this state …… upon a finding that an agent ….. has authorized or engaged in conduct in violation of section 2923.32 of the Revised Code and that, for the prevention of future criminal conduct, the public interest requires the corporation to be dissolved or its license revoked.” -Subdivision (B) (5) of Ohio Revised Code 2923.34
With a guilty verdict against former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, the state’s civil suit can now proceed based on a recent court ruling. Within this case is an under-reported element that could have a monumental impact on the corrupt and anti-democratic culture which has prevailed at FirstEnergy for decades.
Corporations are licensed by the state, which leads to authority to dissolve those licenses over illegal activities. Attorney General Dave Yost has a choice between calling for such dissolution or simply a personnel “reorganization” such that anyone implicated in this scandal is excluded. This commentary points to the imperative need to pursue the former.
The Ohio Revised Code quoted above states that dissolution should be considered when an agent engages in “conduct in violation of section 2923.32.” What does this section refer to? ‘’No person … shall conduct or participate in, directly or indirectly, the affairs of the enterprise through a pattern of corrupt activity….” Might the biggest bribery in state history qualify?
Let’s examine the concept of ‘’pattern.” After publicly admitting its guilt regarding massive bribery, one might expect an attempt at contrition. Instead, FirstEnergy hired a veritable ”army” of attorneys to fight for the minimal penalty and is poised to escape true accountability by paying the absurdly low sum of $230 million — less than it makes in just one quarter. It also tried to illegally use bill payments from customers in five states to pay scandal-related expenses before caught again.
FirstEnergy has always operated with a sense of impunity and arrogant invincibility, with an entire history/ “pattern” of placing profits before the public interest. For ten long years, FirstEnergy fought against cleaning up the toxic-leaking largest coal ash impoundment in the country and instead released 20 billion gallons of ash and scrubber waste.
In 2006, “FirstEnergy acknowledged a cover-up of serious safety violations at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station. Workers discovered that boric acid had gnawed a ‘pineapple-sized’ hole almost clear through the six-inch-thick steel cap at the top of the reactor. Had the corrosion gone a third of an inch deeper …. radioactive steam would have flooded the reactor’s containment dome, and Davis-Besse might have become the next Three Mile Island.” Only a THIRD OF AN INCH from a radioactive cloud endangering MILLIONS.
A “pattern of corrupt activity” so engrained that it places millions at risk will not be stopped by simply ‘’re-arranging’’ personnel. Cut one branch and another will take its place.
While placed on hold, AG Yost said: “The state is not seeking to either undermine the federal criminal matter nor speed past the federal civil matters. Rather the state seeks only not to be shackled to the starting blocks while all others have been sent off by the starter’s pistol.”
AG Yost, you have been freed from those shackles. You have the moral high ground. “For the prevention of future criminal conduct,” you have a responsibility to end this ongoing abuse of corporate power. May you become known historically as the AG who “delivered” for Ohioans in defense of their public interest and the democratic process!
Gary Houser is a long time public interest writer based in Athens County, co-founder of the Ohio University Ecohouse, advocate for Ohio University conversion to clean electricity, former consultant to the city for its solar array at Athens Community Center, and currently producing educational video resources on the climate crisis.
Greg Coleridge is Co-Director of the national Move to Amend campaign, a former member of the national governing board of Common Cause, and director of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.