$500,000 shows how much you care — Householder Update # 6

By Sandy Theis, former reporter and political analyst

CINCINNATI — It was October 2018. Larry Householder wanted to be Ohio’s next Speaker of the House; FirstEnergy wanted electricity customers to bailout out its financially struggling nuclear power plants.

Both got their wishes with help from a $400,000 check that FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyist Bob Klaffky slid across a table and tucked under Householder’s hand.

“Our client cares very much about this issue,’’ Klaffky told Householder.

“Yes they do,’’ Householder said, after peeking inside and seeing the check to Generation Now, a dark money group that does not have to reveal its donors.

Funneling the money

These details about the check and other explosive testimony came in federal court Monday from Juan Cespedes, a co-defendant with Householder who attended the Klaffky meeting. The testimony marked Cespedes’ first public comments since his arrest in July 2020 and the first to directly link utility payments to passage of the bailout bill. He and co-defendant Jeff Longstreth entered guilty pleas the following October.

“I’m guilty. I’m not proud of it,’’ Cespedes said at the outset of his testimony. “I’m here to tell the truth and be accountable for it.’’ 

Cespedes said he worked for FirstEnergy Solutions and coordinated tens of millions in donations steered to Generation Now, the dark money group that has pleaded guilty to collecting and concealing the bribes. Householder and Longstreth controlled Generation Now, Cespedes said.

Householder is on trial along with Matt Borges, a lobbyist and former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. They are accused of participating in a scheme to use $61 million—most of it from FirstEnergy—to make Householder speaker and then pass a $1.3 billion bailout of failing nuclear and coal plants. Both Householder and Borges maintain their innocence.

“…our support was specifically tied to the legislation.”

Cespedes testified that he was tasked with putting together a plan to pass the bailout, initially not knowing whether Householder or Rep. Ryan Smith would be elected Speaker. It was clear, he said, that Householder would be more favorable to the Akron utility’s needs.

In a meeting on Aug. 1, 2018, Householder told FirstEnergy Services lobbyist Klaffky that he needed “multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars” to help get his slate of House candidates elected so they could vote to make him Speaker, Cespedes testified. Klaffky “pushed back’’ and noted that FES had filed for bankruptcy. Still, FirstEnergy officials decided that they would initially give Householder $500,000 but split it into payments of $400,000 and $100,000. 

The second check helped ensure there was no confusion.

“We were trying to establish the fact that our support was specifically tied to the legislation,” Cespedes testified, confirming the quid-pro-quo that is key to the prosecution’s case.

Klaffky can’t recall

Klaffky did not return calls seeking comment, but he did tell The Plain Dealer that he recalled meeting with Householder along with other FirstEnergy Solutions representatives but does recall giving Householder a check nor does he remember what he said during the October 2018 meeting.

From the Plain Dealer:

Asked if it would be common for him to give a campaign contribution at the same meeting where policy issues are discussed, Klaffky said no. He said he “never” personally gives checks to elected officials, and said that as a general practice, he leaves it to clients to decide what they want to do during meetings.

“I recall the client brought the check to a meeting I arranged for the client,” Klaffky said. “Juan was there too, I think. And they gave him a check… I don’t recall saying any of those things. I’m not saying I didn’t.”

Klaffky is not on any upcoming witness lists and said he has not heard from anyone about the meeting—including Cespedes, Householder or the FBI. 

Cespedes is expected to return to the witness stand on Tuesday.

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