But No One Was Charged With Bribing Him
Usually, in the case of powerful politicians who take bribes, we see the bribers being charged with crimes while the bribees never get a second glance from law enforcement. The perfect example is the current FTX scandal, where over $100 million in stolen funds— paltry compared to the $8 billion that was stolen— went to powerful politicians from both corrupt political parties. Sam Bankman-Fried, the mastermind, faces life in prison, while not a single recipient of those millions of dollars who be bought has been so much as questioned by law enforcement! The opposite just happened in Ohio— where FirstEnergy executives bribed the state GOP but no one got in any trouble but a high level Republican scapegoat and one dumb lobbyist. None of the bribers have been charged... but today the bribee and the lobbyist were finally found guilty.
Larry Householder was first elected in 1996 to represent a backward, low-info rural central Ohio area (Coshocton and Perry counties) in the state House. By 2001, his colleagues elected him Speaker where he distinguished himself by leading the first successful effort in America to defund Planned Parenthood. He is also notorious for having passed an early concealed carry bill for his NRA allies. A far right group tried— unsuccessfully— to end his sleazy career when he was caught, but not convicted, in a money-laundering scheme. He was term-limited out of his seating 2004 but was reelected, first to the House in 2016 and then as speaker again in 2019, ousting— with the help of labor and 26 Democrats (despite Householder being a homophobic sociopath)— incumbent Republican Speaker Ryan Smith, who was favored by most House Republicans. OK, that’s the intro; now the background.
Householder and 4 others were arrested the following year in the biggest bribery case in the most bribery-plagued state’s history. (Yes, historically, Ohio is the home of American political corruption.) In this particular case, Householder took $60 million from FirstEnergy in return for having Ohio rescue its 2 nuclear plants, the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station northeast of Oak Harbor and the Perry Nuclear Power Plant northeast of Cleveland on Lake Erie. FirstEnergy laundered their bribes through a corrupt 503 (c) non-profit organization, Generation Now. After the arrest, Governor Mike DeWine asked Household to resign. He refused and a week later the state House voted unanimously to remove him as speaker. It took them another year before they finally expelled him from the House (June 16, 2021). It took a 2/3s vote (66 of the 99 members but 20 Republicans who had profited from his scheme refused to vote to expel him.
And that brings us to today’s guilty verdict. Jack Zuckerman reported this afternoon that a jury convicted Householder and shady GOP lobbyist Matt Borges for the bribery scheme that led to passage of a $1.3 billion bailout of the FirstEnergy two nuclear plants. The jury agreed with the federal prosecutors that Householder secretly controlled Generation Now and the $60 FirstEnergy gave it.
“Generation Now,” wrote Zuckerman, “spent that money engineering Householder’s rise to power, passing legislation that charges ratepayers to bail out the plants, and thwarting an attempt to repeal the bill. About $514,000 from Generation Now also paid down Householder’s legal debts, credit card bills, and repairs to his Florida home, according to bank records shown at trial… Since the case first became public nearly three years ago, prosecutors have said it represented the largest public corruption scheme in Ohio history, a cash-for-legislation scam they said personally enriched five people and aided a utility’s struggling nuclear operation on the backs of all Ohio electric customers.”
Despite being ripped off by the GOP again and again, Ohio voters, obviously in a Stockholm Syndrome relationship with the party, have turned more and more Republican with time. The GOP’s massive majority in the state House increased from 64 seats to 67 seats last year and in the state Senate the margin went from 25 to 8 Democrats up to 26 to 7 Democrats. The scheme will cost each of the approximately 4.8 million electric power rate-payers around $470.
Zuckerman called the verdict “an historic conviction that serves as a rebuke against companies seeking to spend money anonymously to influence state politics and the politicians who execute creative means to push the limits of campaign finance laws.” I don’t think he got that right, since none of the FirstEnergy executives have been charged with any crimes. Householder and Borges each face up to 20 years in prison.
Speaking briefly with reporters after the verdict was delivered, Householder reiterated a key piece of his defense: that House Bill 6– the corporate bailout he delivered FirstEnergy in exchange for bribes– was a “good piece of legislation.” He called the verdict the “first step in a process” as his attorneys indicated plans to appeal.
Three witnesses were key to the prosecutors’ case against Householder:
Jeff Longstreth– the signatory on Generation Now’s accounts who described himself as the quarterback of Householder’s political operation– testified against his former boss. He said he personally executed direct payments to Householder with the expectation of repayment that never came. Longstreth oversaw the campaigns of a slate of Republican House candidates who were needed to win Householder the speaker’s office and pass House Bill 6 in the process. He earned millions of dollars through Generation Now before pleading guilty in October 2020.
Juan Cespedes lobbied for FirstEnergy Solutions, the subsidiary that owned the two nuclear plants. He served as a key middleman, ferrying tens of millions from the company into Generation Now. That includes a $400,000 check written to Generation Now that he said FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyists slid across a table to Householder while discussing their interest in a nuclear bailout.
FBI Special Agent Wetzel, who issued more than 250 subpoenas, oversaw undercover FBI agents, confidential informants, and wire taps in the sprawling investigation. He walked jurors through bank records showing the money trail from FirstEnergy through a maze of dark money political nonprofits. That money all went to one of three goals: shoring up Householder’s power, passing HB6, and enriching Generation Now’s people.
Defending himself at trial, Householder adamantly and defiantly rejected any notion of impropriety. He denied that he wielded any control over spending from Generation Now, claiming its dominion belonged to Longstreth. He said he never promised FirstEnergy anything in exchange for its contributions to the nonprofit. And he repeatedly defended HB6 on the merits, arguing the bailout protected jobs, the tax base in the area that would dry up if the plants closed, and shielded the area from ensuing job loss.
In a statement to reporters from outside the courthouse, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Ken Parker said the verdict amounts to a win for all Ohioans.
“You cannot sell the public trust and you cannot conspire with others to do so,” he said.
Really? Are the Ohioans getting their $1.3 billion back? Has FirstEnergy been seized by the state? What's the "win," that one scapegoat goes to prison for a few years?