Understanding Ohio’s Cycle of Corruption:
The House Bill 6/Householder Enterprise Racketeering Guilty Verdict
On March 9, 2023, after a seven week federal trial, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges were found guilty of racketeering. The pair engaged in a $60 million bribery scheme funneled from FirstEnergy through dark money groups.
This verdict has powerful implications for the rest of the country. Citizens United may have opened the floodgates of corporate cash, but that doesn’t mean that pay-to-play is legal or right. The trial revealed how essential basic disclosure is and the importance of being able to follow the money.
Householder and Borges’ actions could have been prevented if only we had had better anti-corruption laws in place. About 20 years ago, FirstEnergy, the source of the $60 million that fueled the Householder Enterprise, employed the same tactics — give lots of money to a powerful Ohio politician and win passage of another pro-utility bill.
This site is dedicated to cutting through the confusion and clearly presenting the facts of the HB 6/Householder trial implications so that together we can advance legislation that increases transparency, breaks the grip of dark money in our politics, and strengthens the voices of everyday Ohioans.
[Click on the “Table of Contents” above to navigate to the different sections of this site.]
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?
After two years of investigation, Larry Householder, former Speaker of the Ohio House, was on trial for his part in the biggest bribery scandal in Ohio history. Matt Borges, former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, was also on trial at this time. These men were part of a successful $60 million bribery scheme by FirstEnergy and other utility companies to buy seats and votes in the Ohio House in order to secure passage of House Bill 6—the billion dollar bailout that has Ohio taxpayers shelling out to prop up two coal plants—including one in Indiana—among other corrupt absurdities.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
“…likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio,” U.S. Attorney Dave DeVillers
Householder was arrested back in 2020 for alleged crimes that occurred leading up to and during the passage of House Bill 6 in 2019. But since then, no laws have been passed that would stop something similar from happening again.
Ohio has a shameful history of public corruption, a lot of it centering around the Statehouse and its relationship with utility companies. Our lax campaign finance laws and lack of transparency allow interested parties to spend money on lobbying and in elections and keep it secret. Elected officials are able to engage in “pay-to-play” while the public is left in the dark and can’t “follow the money.”
The Householder guilty verdict highlights the fact that Ohio desperately needs transparency and disclosure laws that will pull back the curtain on the dark money that is corrupting our government and robbing Ohioans blind. When we don’t change laws, the same kind of scandal is certain to happen again. Note the headline from January, 2023: Ohio declares natural gas ‘green energy’…records show dark money involvement. Enough is enough. It’s time to act!
This trial also matters because parts of the corrupt HB 6 are still on the books, and Ohioans are still paying to bail out corporate mistakes and poor planning. We need new, forward-looking, pro-voter, and pro-consumer legislation to drag ourselves out of this mess and look to the future.
HOW CAN WE STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN?
Corruption thrives in the dark. We need sunshine and transparency! That means enacting laws that let us see who is paying for what, and help us discover what groups are suggesting, writing, and promoting which pieces of legislation. Here are two specific changes we need in Ohio law:
- Transparency. In 1998, it came to light that Senator Roy Ray who was being paid by a utility company had introduced legislation written by (and benefitting) that utility. Rather than banning this kind of self-dealing, lawmakers passed a bill to block access to Ohio Legislative Services Commission records so we would not be able to see which outside groups were writing legislation. Now, when groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) write legislation for Ohio, the public remains in the dark. We need a bill to end the open records exemption for the LSC so we can see who is pulling the strings at the Ohio Statehouse. It’s time to shine a light on our state’s legislative process.
- Disclosure. After Citizens United in 2010, the floodgates opened allowing corporations and wealthy donors the ability to spend unlimited amounts in elections. Since then, Ohio has not updated its laws. We need legislation that will require disclosure of the funders of advertising so that we could “follow the money” and figure out who is trying to influence our vote, and why.
Sign this petition asking our Ohio Representatives and Senators to get behind legislation that shines a light on dark money and creates greater transparency in lobbying by:
- Requiring the reporting of the donors of political advertisements; and
- Requiring greater transparency at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
“Dark money is a breeding ground for corruption,” U.S. Attorney David DeVillers
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
A $60 million bribery scheme is not built in a day. The roots of this scandal stretch back to 1997 and before. But, without a change in the law, it’s Groundhog Day every day in Ohio. Every time a scandal occurs and no laws are changed to prevent something similar, we go around again. It’s time to change the laws.
Does following HB 6 make your head feel like a tangled knot of spaghetti? Yes, us too. Don’t feel bad that you find it hard to make head or tail of this whole mess: The HB 6/Householder machinations are hard to follow on purpose. They were trying to avoid accountability and pull strings without the voters knowing about it. The paper trail of “dark money” is opaque on purpose. The more difficult it is to sort out the nonprofit shell companies and pass-through organizations, stand ins, deadends, overlaps, and twists and turns, the harder it is to identify (let alone prosecute) any potential crimes.
We’re here to help. On this page you will find links to a timeline of Householder Enterprise/House Bill 6 scandal, a list of key figures, FAQs, additional resources, and a history of corruption scandals in Ohio. But, the important thing to remember is that you don’t need to follow every twist and turn to know bribery and corruption are wrong and must be punished, and our laws must be changed so that this doesn’t keep happening again and again.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Common Cause Ohio has been a leading voice for government accountability for five decades, and we aren’t stopping anytime soon.
Executive Director Catherine Turcer has been researching money in politics since 2000. Turcer participated in a podcast, Ohio Politics Explained: What is Dark Money? How was it used in the House Bill 6 scandal?
In 2020, Common Cause Ohio and partners organized a Blueprint for Democracy online conference focused on the House Bill 6 scandal and highlighting a pathway to create greater transparency in lobbying and elections.