The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
COLUMBUS, Ohio—In the year after the House Bill 6 scandal first broke in July 2020, much of the focus was on state Rep. Larry Householder.
Householder has since been booted from the legislature and awaits trial. Attention is shifting further toward Gov. Mike DeWine as the investigation continues to develop.
The governor has not been accused by prosecutors of any wrongdoing. But his associations with other key players in the investigation have his opponents asking an age-old question in political scandals: What did DeWine know and when did he know it?
Democratic state Reps. Jeffrey Crossman of Parma and Casey Weinstein of Hudson are calling for the administration to provide better transparency of its work to get the nuclear bailout bill passed in 2019.
Weinstein also wants the governor to fire his counselor and top lobbyist, two aides whose roles have come into further question in recent weeks. A spokesperson recently told the Ohio Capital Journal the governor “absolutely” still supports the two aides.
Asked by Spectrum News about the Democrats’ requests earlier Thursday, DeWine replied, “Well, it’s political season I guess.”
Crossman and Weinstein say similar calls for transparency from Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci show this effort is rooted in ethical government, not partisanship.
Their Thursday press conference was organized by the Ohio Democratic Party.
A deferred prosecution agreement signed by federal prosecutors and FirstEnergy, made public last week, has shed further light on a scandal described as the largest bribery scheme in Ohio history.
The court filing offered new details on the connections between FirstEnergy and Sam Randazzo, the former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) chairman appointed by DeWine in early 2019.
FirstEnergy disclosed it paid Randazzo $22 million in private consulting fees over the past decade, including a $4.3 million bribery payment made shortly before his appointment as PUCO chairman. The goal was for Randazzo, as a state regulatory leader, to provide favorable rulings to the energy company.
At issue: When did DeWine learn about this $4.3 million payment? His office contends that Randazzo told then-Chief of Staff Laurel Dawson about the payment in October 2020. Dawson reportedly did not inform DeWine about the payment until weeks later when FBI agents raided Randazzo’s Columbus home. (Randazzo resigned shortly after.)
Weinstein argues that Dawson’s silence on the payments is inexcusable and should lead to her dismissal. He also wants the governor to fire Dan McCarthy, a former FirstEnergy lobbyist now working as DeWine’s legislative affairs director.
The critics are also miffed at a subsequent claim from the governor that “everybody” knew at the time Randazzo was appointed PUCO chairman that he’d worked for FirstEnergy.
His millions of dollars in consulting fees from FirstEnergy were not, in fact, disclosed at the time. Randazzo himself evaded questioning about his connections while still serving as chairman.
“I think it’s important for the public to know, Mr. Chairman, have you or the companies you own or control ever had contracts or done business with FirstEnergy or FirstEnergy Solutions?” Weinstein asked Randazzo at a legislative committee hearing in September 2020.
“I’m old school on disclosure of clients and will not disclose clients I may have had in the past,” Randazzo answered.
The lawmakers also question a 2018 dinner meeting involving DeWine and FirstEnergy executives. DeWine has since claimed to not remember what was said at the meeting, which took place shortly before he took office as governor.
The Democrats want the DeWine administration to make public all documents, correspondence and personal schedules to give a clearer sense of its role before and after House Bill 6 was signed into law.
“Ohioans deserve to know the truth,” Weinstein said. “There’s a lot of truth left to uncover.”