Columbus Dispatch: Ohio can’t afford to be No. 1 in corruption. State’s integrity is on trial.

Despite juicy headlines declaring Ohio No. 1 when it comes to corruption, it is understandable that most are not yet engrossed in the untelevised and unrecorded pay-to-play federal case against former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges.

Tantalizing allegations involving a private jet and a devious seed planted during a fancy Washington, D.C., steakhouse dinner don’t cut through the complexity of the case involving dark money groups, House Bill 6 — a 2019 law with tenacles that twist in strange and costly ways — and how 501(c)(4)s and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio operate.


Yes, but Ohioans should be paying close attention to what emerges from the trial prosecutors characterized as the biggest bribery scandal in Ohio’s history.


The case involves your hard-earned cash — 4.5 million utility customers would have paid for subsidies for two FirstEnergy nuclear plants for seven years. If allegations are correct, it will shine a light on how those elected to serve may have served themselves at the expense of you, your family and friends.

The opening arguments are easy to break down.

The defense says what prosecutors allege was a scheme to trade dark money for a $1.3 billion bailout was actually business as usual at the statehouse, but prosecutors portray Householder as a power-hungry criminal mastermind who pocketed bribe money.

Prosecutors say he then paid FirstEnergy back by helping the Akron-based company take $1.3 billion from our pockets through House Bill 6 subsidies for two nuclear plants that were underwater.

Feds say you were victimized.

The day in July of 2020 that Householder, Borges, lobbyists Juan Cespedes and Neil Clark, and strategist Jeff Longstreth were charged with racketeering, then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David DeVillers told reporters the corruption that led to House Bill 6 was “likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.”

The portion of House Bill 6 that subsidized those two money-losing FirstEnergy nuclear power plants was repealed in March of 2021, but the legislation is still costing us.

Ohioans are still paying millions for two Ohio Valley Electric Corp. Cold War-era coal plants through electric bill fees and will be through 2030 to an estimated tune of $700 million from the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association.

Proponents say fees for the plants were used as bargaining chips in the heated House Bill 6 fight.

Three Ohio utilities have stakes in the coal plants located in Madison, Indiana, and Gallia County along the Ohio River near the West Virginia border.

A section of the law dropping the state’s renewable energy standards from 12.5% by 2027 to 8.5% by 2026 is also among the remnants of House Bill 6 that remain.

If prosecutors are right, Ohioans have been sold out and a law has been purchased in exchange for the power that comes with being the Ohio House speaker.

Among the three most powerful positions in state government — the governor and Ohio Senate president being the other two — the person in that role decides if and when bills sponsored by House members reach the House floor for a vote to become law.

Larry Householder held the position from 2001 to 2004. He left the statehouse under the cloud of an investigation into irregular campaign practices for which he was never charged.

Householder returned to the House in 2017 with his eyes on being speaker again, according to reporting by USA TODAY Network Ohio bureau reporters Jessie Balmert and Laura Bischoff, who are covering the fascinating trial’s twists and turns.

Investigators maintain FirstEnergy routed $61 million through dark money political groups which do not have to disclose the name of donors.

Part of that money was used to help Householder regain the speaker position and defeat a referendum against House Bill 6.

That campaign included ads falsely connecting the issue to China and underhanded tactics against Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, a company formed to challenge House Bill 6 on the ballot.

Federal investigators also say Householder used campaign money to repair his Florida home, cover legal fees from a defamation lawsuit settlement and pay off credit card debt.

For his part, investigators say Borges gave $15,000 to Republican strategist Tyler Fehrman for insider information about the ballot initiative.

Borges has denied that, saying he gave Ferhman the money “in consideration for future political projects” and to help his mentee in financial need.

A long saga

The trial is considered the highpoint of the House Bill 6 scandal that has already seen convictions and admissions.

• Longstreth and Cespedes have pleaded guilty. Then-FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and several other executives were fired.

• Clark died by suicide in March of 2021.

• FirstEnergy agreed to pay a $230 million fine In July 2021 and to cooperate with investigators. It also admitted it bribed Householder and former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman Sam Randazzo, who has not been charged and says he did nothing wrong.

Householder and Borges vehemently deny they did anything wrong. A jury will decide their fate with a verdict that may yet be weeks away.

The verdict is up to the jury, but we all should be paying attention to the case.

It speaks to how we expect our elected officials to behave and the representation we deserve.

Corruption is not an Ohio value.

If it occurred, those responsible should be held accountable and the course should be corrected.

The state’s integrity is at stake.