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New fallout in HB 6 nuclear bailout scandal leads to calls for more campaign finance disclosure

The Perry nuclear power plant, one of two that will receive subsidies from House Bill 6.
Andy Chow

New documents show FirstEnergy paid $2.5 million in secret to help Mike DeWine's initial campaign for governor in 2018. It’s the latest twist in a saga over House Bill 6, the energy bailout law passed not long after he took office that resulted in a $61 million bribery scandal.

The new documents from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio show dark money from FirstEnergy went to a political action committee that backed DeWine. In addition to donating that undisclosed money to State Solutions, a 501(c)(4) associated with the Republican Governors Association, it also gave publicly disclosed funds to both the RGA and the Democratic Governors Association, which was helping DeWine's opponent Richard Cordray. But DeWine told reporters that he didn't know about the money.

"I don't know what they contributed to his, and didn't know really until documents came out what they contributed to us because they were contributing to an independent expenditure. As you know, with an independent expenditure we can't collaborate back and forth," DeWine told reporters.

As to whether FirstEnergy's support led him to sign House Bill 6 in 2019, DeWine said, "No. Absolutely not. I felt this was, I thought this was in the state's interest. And people can argue about the bill. They can argue about whether we should have nuclear energy. My position was we need to have nuclear energy, we need to have 'all of the above.' So that was my position. That's what I felt. That's what I publicly said."

News of this dark money donation has renewed calls for more disclosure of contribution. But House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said there’s not a viable bill to require that.

“The First Amendment and the federal Supreme Court decisions make it a little more challenging to deal with that issue," Stephens said.

Democrats have been pushing for a full repeal of HB 6 and a slate of legislative changes to provide safeguards to prevent future criminal activity like that involved in the scandal. House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) said this is an issue that voters should care about.

“We hope that they care about the state’s largest corruption scandal and the fact that residents in Ohio are continuing to pay for this corruption scandal every month when they pay their utility bill," Russo said.

While parts of HB 6 have been repealed, the subsidy for two coal-burning power plants, one of which is in Indiana, still stands.

Republican former House Speaker Larry Householder is serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for racketeering in connection with HB 6. Former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges is serving a five-year term in federal prison. Lobbyist Neil Clark was also facing federal charges along with Householder and Borges but died by suicide in March 2021. Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chair Sam Randazzo had pleaded not guilty to federal and state charges, and was found dead in a suspected suicide earlier this month. Two former First Energy executives, Michael Dowling and Chuck Jones, are facing state charges.

Contact Jo Ingles at
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