Skip to main content
State Seal State Seal State Seal
Home Button Home Button Home Button

Roots of HB 6 corruption scandals run deep in Ohio. Justice department must investigate.

Published By Columbus Dispatch on March 4, 2024
C. Allison Russo In The News

April marks five years since House Bill 6, the infamous nuclear bailout bill–was first introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives.

HB 6 sparked the fire that engulfed Ohio in the largest political corruption scheme in the state’s history.

The well-publicized federal trial and guilty verdict of former House Speaker Larry Householder helped bring to light some of the dark truths of Ohio’s broken political landscape.

 This corruption scheme traded $60 million in bribes to influence powerful politicians to bailout two FirstEnergy nuclear power plants and two OVEC coal plants, one operating in Indiana. This conspiracy defrauded Ohio’s energy customers of $1.3 billion and demonstrates that, under the state’s current leadership, corporate greed and politics are often prioritized over the people.

 Recent state indictments issued by Attorney General Dave Yost remind the public that the second leg of this corruption scheme included ensuring the appointment by the DeWine-Husted Administration of a friendly utility regulator, former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo.

PUCO directly oversees investor-owned utility companies like FirstEnergy. In the state indictments, Randazzo and two former FirstEnergy executives are charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, including bribery, theft, and fraud.

 These latest indictments reveal Gov. Mike DeWine’s then chief of staff and current senior advisor testified to a grand jury that she knew of a $4.3 million payout from FirstEnergy to Randazzo before DeWine appointed Randazzo as PUCO chair. The DeWine-Husted team also had a 198-page internal memo detailing undisclosed financial ties between FirstEnergy and Randazzo, but the appointment moved forward anyway.

When Randazzo’s appointment seemed to be in jeopardy due to pushback from consumer advocates and the PUCO nominating council, text messages from indicted former FirstEnergy executives read, “Forced DeWine/Husted to perform battlefield triage. It’s a rough game…”

 The DeWine-Husted Administration has long been criticized for employing former FirstEnergy lobbyists while at the same time taking significant amounts of campaign money from the company.

Federal indictments previously revealed FirstEnergy personally recommended Randazzo as the PUCO chairman at a private dinner with then, newly elected Governor DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted. It’s as if the DeWine-Husted Administration established a system of privileged access for FirstEnergy to be involved in state decision-making, while everyday Ohioans paid the price.

 Back to Mr. Randazzo: four months after HB 6 passed—legislation he helped write—Randazzo gave FirstEnergy another critical win by eliminating the requirement that FirstEnergy come before PUCO for a rate case in 2024. This gave FirstEnergy a pass on opening its books to ensure it wasn’t ripping off customers. That key decision gave a financial windfall to FirstEnergy and likely cost Ohio energy consumers millions.

Ohioans have been paying this corruption tax ever since through higher utility bills and additional fees. According to Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, HB 6 utility subsidies alone cost $533,589 per day, totaling nearly $245 million collected already on utility bills.

 Though the attorney general’s indictments are long overdue and laudable, most Ohioans no longer trust that the state alone—the very system that ignited this corruption—has the ability to detach itself from the political realities of Ohio’s current state government.

Case in point: to date, not a single ethics, campaign finance, or utility regulation reform has been passed by Ohio’s Republican supermajority legislature or proposed by the DeWine-Husted Administration to prevent another HB 6-like scandal from happening again.

House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly introduced several reforms if they’re looking for good ideas.

Last week, we also sent a joint letter to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio requesting U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker to further investigate newly revealed details in the state indictments about what members of the DeWine-Husted administration knew about Randazzo’s alleged crimes.

Five years ago might have marked the legislative beginning of Ohio’s largest corruption scandal in history, but its roots continue to run deep in the halls of government and should be weeded out once and for all.

Like they say, eliminating Ohio’s corruption tax is a rough game.

Ohio House of Representatives Minority Leader Allison Russo is serving her third term representing House District 7 which includes Upper Arlington, Grandview Heights, Ohio State University, and portions of Columbus.



Read Full Article