Householder Followed the Money—Why Can’t We? Trial Update # 3

By Sandy Theis, former reporter and political analyst

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CINCINNATI — FirstEnergy and its allies went to great lengths to hide what federal prosecutors call “bribes’’ paid in exchange for favorable legislation, but even so, prosecutors explained how then-Speaker Larry Householder—the man they say benefitted from the alleged bribes—had little trouble keeping track of every dollar that came in.

Details of how Householder meticulously followed the money came during week two of his trial in federal court in Cincinnati. He and co-defendant Matt Borges, the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, are accused of participating in a complex scheme to use at least $60 million in hidden money to help Householder win the powerful job of Speaker of the Ohio House, pass a bill to bailout two nuclear plants owned at the time by FirstEnergy Solutions, and then repulse a referendum to repeal the bill.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law the same day it passed—a bill that stuck electricity customers with the cost of the $1.3 billion nuclear bailout and the cost of subsidizing two aging coal-fired power plants. The nuclear bailouts have been repealed, the coal subsidies remain.

Following the Money from FirstEnergy to Dark Money Groups

During his second day on the witness stand, FBI Special Agent Blane Wetzel showed the value that Householder placed on fundraising.

Wetzel detailed documents showing when FirstEnergy’s first installment arrived and when subsequent payments arrived. On Householder’s behalf, political adviser Jeff Longstreth sent reminders to FirstEnergy executives when the next installments were due, often providing instructions on how and where to wire the money.

The first payment—$250,000—came from FirstEnergy Service Company to Generation Now, one of the dark money groups that the FBI said received millions in bribes, Wetzel testified. Generation Now pleaded guilty in February 2021.

In one May 2017 text, then-FirstEnergy executive Mike Dowling asked Longstreth, “Are we at $500L …now?” Longstreth replied, “yes.’’ Dowling has since been fired and identified as one of the executives who “devised and orchestrated FirstEnergy’s payments to public officials in exchange for favorable legislation and regulatory action.”

Using bank records, Wetzel demonstrated how money flowed from utilities to Generation Now to JPL & Associates, a firm owned by Longstreth, JPL. Longstreth’s company paid invoices for big-ticket items such as polling and research, and several records showed Householder had the final say.

The Plan to Make Householder Speaker

The new evidence also included spreadsheets that categorized House candidates as being “on the team,’’ “moving our way’’ or “moving against us.’’ And candidates were rated on a scale of 1 to 5, for things such as the ability to raise money.

Other records showed Householder and his team carefully tracking and evaluating the electability of House candidates—especially ones who faced primary challenges from candidates who backed rival Ryan Smith for the Speaker’s job. Team Householder supplied supportive candidates with everything from social media to messaging. To win the Speaker’s job, Householder needed more votes than Smith—and he got them.

Householder Using Fundraising Prowess to Build Power  

In a note to House candidates, Longstreth reinforced the importance of fundraising updates. “Larry Householder makes calls to lobbyists and donors every day. He can’t help you with fundraising if we don’t have accurate information. Help us help you,’’ Longstreth wrote.

Longstreth is one of three guilty pleas already secured by federal officials. In his plea, Longstreth admits to organizing Generation Now for Householder, knowing the entity would be used to receive bribe money to further Householder’s bid for House Speaker and trying to hide that the utility was the source of Generation Now’s money.

How the Investigation Started 

Prosecutors also played a recording of a December 2017 phone call between the late lobbyist Neil Clark and Householder. Clark, who was charged along with Householder, Borges, and three others, died by suicide. Wetzel said Clark was the subject of “another” FBI investigation but provided no details on it.

Past news reports show the FBI had an interest in ECOT, the embattled online charter school that employed Clark as its lobbyist and spokesman.

Check out this brief history of corruption in Ohio to learn more about the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) scandal. 

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