Corrupt Republicans, naive Democrats and a company’s horrible choices

There’s plenty of blame to be cast as Ohioans begin to comprehend the scope of our state’s latest corruption scandal, which revealed an epic breach of trust by a sworn leader and one of Akron’s most important brands.

Republican state Rep. Larry Householder, the now-former speaker of the Ohio House facing federal racketeering charges, led a shocking betrayal of Ohioans last year as depicted in a detailed 80-page FBI affidavit on the $60 million scheme. Regardless of the legal outcome of his case, his willingness to use millions of anonymous “dark” dollars to air deceitful ads invoking fear to benefit one company finally reveals his true character for all to see.

What’s almost as shocking is how much help Householder and his four Republican conspirators needed to pass House Bill 6, a $1.3 billion energy bailout funded by electric customers.

Republicans dominate state government not because a supermajority of Ohioans agree with their principles and support their candidates. Gerrymandering engineered by Republicans nearly 10 years ago ensures most state legislative candidates face token opposition, grouping likely Democratic voters into as few districts as possible. That’s why today’s House includes 61 Republicans and 38 Democrats. Never mind that Ohioans don’t always vote Republican in statewide elections.

While it’s likely many Republicans were unaware of Householder’s corruption, he needed help to fulfill his 2019 mission to pass the bailout mostly benefiting two nuclear power plants then owned by a FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiary. At least 10 Republicans in office today benefited from Householder using money the FBI claims FirstEnergy or its affiliates sent to a dark-money group called Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) group not required to identify its donors.

With millions in cash, Householder funded shameful negative ads against candidates he opposed and helped elect representatives he needed to become speaker and push the bill. Some he trusted are mentioned in the affidavit as attending a dinner where Householder’s motives and unethical tactics were laid bare. Other Republicans figured out Householder was orchestrating the entire drama from the shadows, including false advertising claiming China was taking over Ohio’s electric grid. Some expressed concerns internally. At least one spoke to the FBI as Householder greased the bill through the Statehouse and forcefully defeated a referendum effort.

Ironically, a majority of House Republicans never wanted Householder to regain the speakership he first left due to term limits amid another FBI investigation in 2004.

It took 26 Democrat and 26 Republican votes to turn Householder into the king of the House, an effort coordinated by current House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron. With so few Democratic representatives, Sykes and others saw an overture from Householder as an opportunity to increase their voice and reduce partisanship.

As noble as that sounded, Democrats should have known they were making a deal with an ethically challenged bully.

It’s unfortunate Democrats now are trying to conveniently forget their role in this drama. Some statements issued in recent days, including Sykes’ “we don’t trust” any Republican ring hollow to us. You trusted the wrong Republican.

The origin of this whole mess sadly is Akron, where FirstEnergy Corp. faced a real dilemma of operating uncompetitive nuclear plants that produce nearly all of Ohio’s non-carbon-burning power. The company has denied any wrongdoing and tried to minimize its role in the management of bankrupt subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions, now operating as the independent Energy Harbor.

Regardless, FirstEnergy did acknowledge it spent about $15 million of the $60 million documented by the FBI, with most of the balance presumably coming from Energy Harbor.

We have to question the leadership of any company hiding its political contributions while funding a campaign to deliberately confuse the very citizens it serves. It’s especially troubling that the bailout helped Energy Harbor (former FES) emerge from bankruptcy and watch its stock price rise until recent events.

Many serious legal questions about who benefited from Householder’s plot remain unanswered.

But it’s already clear important political and business leaders let us down.

We expect more.

— Akron Beacon Journal; Online: