Statement from Common Cause Ohio Executive Director Catherine Turcer
It’s been a long wait, but finally today federal prosecutors announced that Akron-based FirstEnergy has agreed to pay a $230 million penalty for their role in the House Bill 6 scandal. FirstEnergy created a nonprofit entity Partners for Progress which provided funds to other 501c-4 entities. These nonprofits were created specifically to promote and advance a bailout of their nuclear plants and conceal “payments for the benefit of public officials and in return for official action.”
When former Speaker Larry Householder was arrested a year ago, those following the case were easily able to figure out the identity of “Company A” named in the indictment. Ohioans have been marking time ever since for FirstEnergy to be clearly identified as responsible for their role in the scheme. We have been waiting for accountability from a corporation that went to extraordinary lengths to enrich themselves and leave Ohio ratepayers holding the bag for their bad business decisions. We are thankful that the day has finally arrived.
The corruption by FirstEnergy highlights the need for greater transparency, beginning first of all with transparency of corporate political spending. Stockholders need to know how corporate money is being spent so they can hold corporations accountable. Transparent decision-making by corporate boards and timely disclosure of political spending can help shareholders determine whether their corporation’s political activities advance the goals of the company or not. With full and transparent information, shareholders can see and decide if the corporation’s political giving is on the up-and-up, and citizens can see if elected officials are “in the pocket” of — and doing the bidding of — their large corporate donors.
More than ten years ago, the decision in Citizens United v. FEC opened the floodgates allowing corporations to pay for political ads. Unfortunately, because of a lack of full transparency, political spending by corporations has devolved into a shell game: corporations give to a string of nonprofits (501c-4 organizations) which shift and hide massive donations so neither shareholders nor voters can follow the money. This lack of transparency invites corruption and all corporations should take steps to be fully transparent about their political activities.
Clearly, Ohio legislators also need to create greater transparency so that voters can “follow the money” and determine who is funding political spending by all entities including nonprofits. It’s not yet too late for us to pass new laws that will shine a light on “dark money.” However, our state legislative leaders need to act with urgency and make transparency and accountability a top priority — or Ohioans will undoubtedly face yet another embarrassing scandal.