COLUMBUS, Ohio – Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci has asked Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Secretary of State Frank LaRose to open another line of investigation into the FirstEnergy Corp. public corruption scandal and incumbent GOP Governor Mike DeWine’s re-election campaign.
Renacci transmitted the joint letter to the Republican statewide officeholders Monday afternoon. The document asked officials for answers to questions about the corruption scheme surrounding the House Bill 6 passed in July 2019. FirstEnergy pushed the legislation to allow it to tap Ohio electric customers both inside its service territory and that of other investor-owned electric utilities to financially support its two old nuclear power plants located along the Lake Erie shores to the tune of $1.1 billion.
In late July, FirstEnergy admitted its role in the bribery scandal, agreed to pay a $230 million fine, and pledged to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation.
“I am formally asking the Attorney General’s Office and the [Ohio] Secretary of State investigate all sources of donations directly or indirectly to Governor DeWine and fully report all proceeds received to the benefit of his campaign,” Renacci wrote in the letter. “Taxpayers deserve accountability and it begins with following the money trail and returning that money to those who have been negatively affected by this pay-for-play scandal.”
The Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation have led the criminal investigation. Its first indictments came out in July 2020, a year after the passage of HB 6.
The investigation has yet to accuse DeWine or the DeWine Husted for Ohio campaign of any wrongdoing.
Attorney General Yost a year ago filed a civil lawsuit in an attempt to recover alleged ill-gotten money That effort led to the naming of former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo to that lawsuit last week.
Steve Cheung, a spokesman for the Renacci campaign, said the AG also has jurisdiction because his office regulates nonprofits and the Ohio Secretary of State has jurisdiction because of the campaign financing angle.
DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney did not return a message to an after-hours media call line seeking comment.
Various media investigations have shown FirstEnergy money flowing through the Ohio Republican Party and the Republican Governors Association. The latter contributed $500,000 to the DeWine campaign in 2018.
“We know the money trail also involves the Ohio Republican Party who received money from FirstEnergy and has, in turn, provided Governor DeWine with donations and financial support. The Republican Governors Association, one of Governor DeWine’s biggest financial backers, were also recipients of FirstEnergy money,” Renacci wrote in the letter.
Renacci added, “There is a culture of corruption within our politics and we need to shine a spotlight on how shady money has corrupted our system.”
Referrals to Ohio Election Commission
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office did not have comment before press time.
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, said in a statement emailed to The Ohio Star that the office reviews all campaign finance reports for adherence to Ohio’s laws.
“When there is a reason to believe a law has been broken, we refer those cases to the Ohio Elections Commission, which is the investigative body empowered with enforcement of those laws.”
The House Bill 6 investigations has spurred numerous referrals.
“Over the last 13 months, the Secretary has referred at least 180 alleged violations of campaign law to the Ohio Election Commission concerning HB 6,” the emailed response said, “and has recommended that the Ohio Elections Commission hire additional counsel to help pursue the investigation.”
Nichols added, “If anyone has reason to believe there are additional issues that should be investigated, they should bring those concerns directly to the Ohio Elections Commission at their next meeting.”
Read the letter:
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Brian Ball is a reporter for The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Send tips to [email protected]