Nursing home assn. gave $135k to dark money group tied to Householder bribery case

By: - March 22, 2021 12:55 am

Former House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. Source: Ohio General Assembly.

An entity representing Ohio’s nursing home industry contributed at least $135,000 to a political dark money group that has pleaded guilty to its role in an alleged racketeering scheme involving former House Speaker Larry Householder.

The nonprofit 501(c)(4) entity, 55 Green Meadows, is affiliated with the Ohio Health Care Association — both groups share an executive director and mailing address. The OHCA represents more than 1,000 assisted living communities in the state.

In 2017, 55 Green Meadows made a $30,000 contribution to Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) group that prosecutors say Householder secretly controlled.

In 2018, 55 Green Meadows contributed another $105,000 to Generation Now, per 55 Green Meadows’ most recent available tax records.

Both these nonprofit entities, known as “social welfare” organizations under federal tax law, can legally spend unlimited sums influencing politics so long as this isn’t the organization’s “primary activity.” They’re frequently used in politics to obfuscate who’s paying for political advertising, hence the term “dark money.”

Householder, R-Glenford, is currently awaiting trial in what is believed to be the largest public corruption case in state history, centered on the use of 501(c)(4)s. One of his alleged co-conspirators, the late Neil Clark, also served as a lobbyist for OHCA for 30 years.

Federal prosecutors allege utility giant FirstEnergy secretly poured more than $60 million into Generation Now, sometimes via pass-through organizations. Householder allegedly used these funds to bankroll fellow Republicans’ campaigns who would help elect him Speaker and support him politically.

The funds also powered passage of House Bill 6, legislation worth about $1.3 billion to FirstEnergy, paying for media campaigns to support the legislation. The bill gave FirstEnergy a ratepayer-funded bailout to a nuclear plant owned by an independently controlled subsidiary, a ratepayer-backed revenue guarantee against price drops in the energy market, and more.

In company with Householder, prosecutors charged Generation Now; Householder’s political adviser Jeff Longstreth; Clark; lobbyist Juan Cespedes; and lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, accusing them of taking part in the “criminal enterprise.”

To date, Generation Now, Longstreth, and Cespedes have pleaded guilty. Householder and Borges have maintained their innocence, as did Clark, who died last week in Florida in an apparent suicide. FirstEnergy and its executives have not been charged with any crimes.

In an email, OHCA Executive Director Pete Van Runkle said 55 Green Meadows made the contributions to Generation Now independently and without Clark’s participation or advice.

Van Runkle said if he recalls correctly, Longstreth was the point of contact in making the contribution.

“We understood Generation Now to be an organization that supported the former Speaker’s public policy goals,” Van Runkle said.

Alongside the 501(c)(4) contributions, OHCA’s political PAC and executive director contributed a combined $30,500 to Householder’s campaign between July 2017 and July 2019, campaign finance records show.

In charging documents filed against Householder, prosecutors mention a contribution that matches the 55 Green Meadows’ 2017 payment.

“In a Jan. 10, 2018 recorded call with Clark, Householder discussed financial contributions from various industries, including payday lenders and nursing homes, two industries for which Clark is a lobbyist,” court documents state.

In October 2017, Generation now received a $25,000 check from an unidentified payday lending company, court records say, and a $30,000 check from “another industry’s” 501(c)(4).

William Ireland, an attorney representing Clark, maintained his late client’s innocence in an interview Friday but declined to comment on the phone call, citing ongoing litigation.

Bob Krapenc, an attorney representing and Generation Now, declined to comment.

The 55 Green Meadows contributions are at best, quasi-public. Some close to state politics know 55 Green Meadows to be an extension of OHCA, but this is likely untrue of the general public.

What’s more is tax filings from 55 Green Meadows contain two apparent, significant errors: The filings state the contributions went to a different 501(c)(4) also named Generation Now — a charity for underserved children in Fort Collins, Colorado. The $105,000 contribution from 2018 is also listed not as a cash transfer but “noncash assistance.”

Van Runkle called these both a “mistake” in an email, saying the payments went to the Householder-affiliated Generation Now and that the second payment was cash as well.

Business filings from Generation Now in Ohio and Delaware do not list the names of any of the men charged in the affair.

Prosecutors say they have another recorded call of Clark explaining that 501(c)(4)s work like normal political action committees except there’s “no reporting” and his name is “not on any documents” but he is the “overseer” regardless.

“I’m the Speaker’s appointed guy to do that,” he said in the call, according to prosecutors. “It’s like having him in the room.”

Prosecutors argue FirstEnergy (only identified as Company A in charging documents) made its contributions in exchange for House Bill 6. The defendants also allegedly conspired to defeat a ballot referendum to overturn the legislation.

The prosecutors did not detail any motive for the contributions from 55 Green Meadows.

The Columbus Dispatch and the Energy and Policy Institute have detailed other groups that funded Generation Now including AEP and Murray Energy Corp.

This article was updated Monday afternoon with a declination to comment from Generation Now attorney Bob Krapenc. 



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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.