COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder’s alleged pay-to-play scheme to pass legislation for special interests extended beyond House Bill 6 and its $1 billion ratepayer bailout of two ailing nuclear power plants.
Householder and charged co-conspirator Neil Clark, a lobbyist, are portrayed in a federal affidavit as engaging in an active effort to solicit big, secretive checks in exchange for favorable consideration of bills.
The Perry County Republican talked of adding money from the payday-loan, nursing home and other industries to the $60 million funneled by FirstEnergy Solutions to Generation Now, the “dark money” nonprofit Householder allegedly controlled to defend House Bill 6 from a repeal attempt.
An affidavit from an FBI agent detailing the federal racketeering charges against Householder and his alleged co-conspirators reveals that “other” non-energy interests paid nearly $2.9 million into Generation Now, which was not required to reveal its donors.
In a 2019 recorded meeting, Clark “discussed making ‘soft money’ payments to Householder relating to the passage” of legislation unrelated to H.B. 6, the affidavit states.
Clark, who represented both payday lending and nursing home interests as a lobbyist, stated Householder wanted to see the checks from special interests in person before they landed at Generation Now.
The longtime GOP-aligned lobbyist talked of the size of the expected checks. “A noticeable number … $15-$20-$25,000 … to Gen Now and hand-deliver the check to the speaker,” the affidavit quotes Clark.
In a Jan. 10, 2018, phone call with Clark recorded by the FBI, Householder (who was not yet speaker) said: “So we are looking at payday lenders. And we are expecting big things in [Generation Now] money from payday lenders.
“So far, I think we are, what, 50 [thousand dollars]? I think,” Householder said.
Clark replied, according to the affidavit: “You should have gotten 25 or 50 [thousand dollars] from [owner of firm], correct?” Householder answered: “Yes” before confirming with someone in the room it was only $25,000.
In an Aug. 19, 2019, phone call captured by federal authorities, Clark talked of making a road trip with Householder or his advisers to pick up a check and advance unspecified legislation.
Clark said the targeted individuals “might write a check to [Generation Now]” totaling $50,000, again saying it should personally be handed to Householder.
The federal affidavit alleges the pay-to-play scheme dated to 2017, the first year of Householder’s return to the Statehouse after his earlier tenure as speaker in the early 2000s. He became speaker again in 2019.
Subpoenaed bank records from Generation Now match recorded conversations between Householder and Clark about the president of a payday-lending company writing a $25,000 check on Oct. 18, 2017, and a $30,000 check from an unidentified party the next day.
But Householder’s apparent designs on helping out the payday-loan industry apparently were thwarted by the last House speaker to confront controversy and scandal.
While denying wrongdoing, then-Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, resigned April 12, 2018, as the FBI investigated overseas trips he took with payday-lending lobbyists. No criminal charges have ever surfaced.
Less than two months later, eager to dispel the notion the fix was in, the Republican-dominated House passed a bill to impose major restrictions on the industry and place caps on what were called the nation’s highest interest rates in excess of 500% on small, short-term loans.
Catherine Turcer, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Ohio, called for lawmakers to improve campaign-finance disclosure and shine a light to expose dark money and end pay-to-play.
“We shouldn’t need an FBI investigation to connect the dots. If we had had strong campaign-finance disclosure rules, Larry Householder would not have been able to pervert our political system the way that he did,” she said.
“It’s past time for the Ohio legislature to take action to increase transparency of political spending and stop allowing dark money to distort the democratic process … Ohio voters deserve nothing less,” Turcer said.