Tick… Tick… Boom! – Householder Trial Update #5

By Sandy Theis, former reporter and political analyst

CINCINNATI—On Wednesday, new statements, evidence, and testimony revealed more connections in the Householder trial and gave context to information we already knew.

An Award for Lobbying?

Back in 2020, FirstEnergy received a major award. Not just any award. The Edwin D. Hill Award is considered “the World Series of public policy,’’ according to Mike Dowling, the now-fired FirstEnergy executive who accepted it.  “There is no greater honor, to be honest with you.’’

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) honored the Akron utility with the labor-management award for its 2019 campaign to pass House Bill 6 — the nuclear and coal-plant bailouts now at the center of the FBI’s ongoing bribery case. FirstEnergy included this video in its press release to trumpet the honor, then removed it from public view after the now-tainted law generated six indictments, including former Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges. We are able to watch this video thanks to the Energy and Policy Institute. 

On Feb. 8, Thomas Kuhn, the head of the group that gave FirstEnergy the award, said EEI works with IBEW “to advance state and local issues on behalf of member companies ‘’ such as FirstEnergy, and he said his organization was not aware of the scandal when the award was given. “FirstEnergy did not self-nominate or otherwise urge us to present this award to them,’’ he said in a written statement on Feb. 8. He did not respond to a message asking if IBEW urged EEI to do so. 

Reached for comment, Ashley Brown, who previously served as the consumer voice on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) that sets utility rates, called the giving of the award “ludicrous.’’ 

Brown said, “This is like giving Arthur Anderson an accounting award after the collapse of Enron.’’ He also suspects there is a back story that explains its strategic timing.

Householder and Borges are on trial in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati where they face charges of racketeering. They are accused of using more than $60 million—much of it flowing through the nonprofit Generation Now—to install Householder as Ohio House Speaker, pass a bill to bailout nukes owned at the time by a FirstEnergy subsidiary, and used aggressive tactics to block an effort to ask voters to overturn it.

Tim Burga Has a Change of Heart 

Householder’s lawyers are hoping to get a lifeline from labor leaders with a history of supporting Democrats.

They subpoenaed Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO. Householder’s lawyers hope that Burga will show jurors that entities other than FirstEnergy supported Generation Now, and it really wasn’t the villainous dark money group that the FBI is making it out to be.

We already knew that most of the $60 million that the FBI argues are bribes came from FirstEnergy. This week, we learned that IBEW and other Ohio AFL-CIO members paid $840,000 to the dark money group—but we aren’t sure that the unions knew exactly what the money would be used for. Court filings last week revealed—for the first time—that the AFL-CIO received $1.4 million from Generation Now.

On its editorial page on Feb. 3, the Toledo Blade called for “A full line-item accounting for the heretofore unknown $1.4 million supplied by FirstEnergy through Mr. Householder…. Was all the money spent to produce and distribute the TV commercials and mailers meant to convince Ohio voters not to sign petitions to put the bailout on the ballot?’’

After initially saying he would fight the subpoena, on Feb. 8, Burga changed his tune and now says he will testify. In the past, Burga said his sole reason for supporting the bailout was concerns over thousands of jobs at the two nuclear power plants that he feared would be lost without it.


In the trial’s first three weeks, jurors learned how Larry Householder and Matt Borges worked hard to cover their tracks, urged friends and foes to destroy potentially damaging public records and sometimes used tracking devices to monitor political foes.

This week the jurors also learned that now-fired FirstEnergy VP Dowling fancies the word “boom.’’

In one text message presented to jurors, Dowling celebrated news that a state plane—at taxpayer expense—would be dispatched to return lawmakers to Columbus to vote for the bailout bill. Gov. DeWine’s then-chief of staff, Laurel Dawson—married to a FirstEnergy consultant—approved the expense.

”Mike Dawson’s wife. Boom,Dowling wrote in a text.

When the Householder-led House passed the bailout bill, Dowling and other utility executives were euphoric.

Boom! Congrats. This doesn’t happen without CEO leadership,’’ Dowling texted FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones.

FirstEnergy fired Jones and Dowling in October 2020, saying an internal review showed they violated company policies and its code of conduct.

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