Commentary

Nothing new? Records show startling new info on DeWine, Husted roles in Ohio bailout scandal

August 18, 2022 3:20 am

COLUMBUS, OH — MAY 03: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine joined on stage by First Lady Fran DeWine, grandson Calvin, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Second Lady Tina Husted to celebrate DeWine winning the Republican Party nomination for governor in the Ohio primary election, May 3, 2022, at the DeWine-Husted campaign headquarters, Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal.)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted like to claim “there is nothing new” whenever startling new information is revealed about their administration’s role in Ohio’s corrupt political bribery and nuclear bailout scandal.

I suppose it’s true they have personally known the extent of their own involvement all along, but the public hasn’t.

So while it may be “nothing new” to them, this is all very new to us.

Over the past week we’ve learned that DeWine and Husted played far more extensive roles than previously known in passing the pay-for-play $1.3 billion energy bailout and appointing an industry-friendly regulator who has since been accused of taking a $4.3 million bribe.

Newly revealed records show DeWine met repeatedly to discuss energy policy with FirstEnergy Corp. officials and at least once with GOP House Speaker Larry Householder, who has been criminally accused of taking a separate, multimillion-dollar bribe from the company to pass the bailout. Householder’s pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in early 2023.

Newly released text messages show FirstEnergy executives describing an open line with the administration on the selection of Ohio’s top utility regulator and inside support from DeWine and Husted.

One thing that’s not new is that FirstEnergy contributed about $1 million in total to the DeWine/Husted campaign, political organizations supporting it, and to another nonprofit supporting his daughter’s campaign for county prosecutor, according to the Dayton Daily News.

Sam Randazzo and Regulatory Capture

Sam Randazzo. Source: The Ohio Channel.

In 2019, DeWine appointed an energy lobbyist named Sam Randazzo to the head of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, despite a 198-page dossier from his former campaign staffer warning against the move.

FirstEnergy last summer admitted it paid Randazzo the $4.3 million bribe, in addition to $60 million in bribes for passage of its nuclear energy bailout. Randazzo has not been charged with a crime and denies wrongdoing.

When the admission of that bribe became public in July 2021, DeWine said, “He did work for them and he was paid for that. We knew that, everybody knew that. So there’s no new information.”

The new records show that after the 2018 November election, DeWine, Husted, and now-fired FirstEnergy executives Mike Dowling and Chuck Jones celebrated over dinner at The Athletic Club in Columbus.

The next day, new texts reveal, Jones sent Randazzo a message indicating they discussed an open PUCO seat.

In January of 2019, the texts show, the FirstEnergy officials messaged one another trying to fill not just one but two open PUCO seats, all the while mentioning phone calls with “DeWine guys” about it.

Former FirstEnergy CEO Charles “Chuck” Jones. Source: FirstEnergy, via Flickr

“That’s their plan but nothing certain until Sam’s [Randazzo’s] meeting [with DeWine],” Jones texted Dowling. “Four people in DeWine world, you, Sam, and I know about this.”

In the texts, Dowling relayed a message from Josh Rubin — a DeWine 2018 campaign adviser and a FirstEnergy lobbyist — that “once Sam is in, DeWine will lean on him on everything including who should be the next commissioner.”

In another newly released text, Dowling credits DeWine and Husted with performing “battlefield triage” to save Randazzo’s appointment before a key vote.

FirstEnergy’s Deferred Prosecution Agreement from last summer includes a line that refers to a text about “State Official 1” and “State Official 2” lobbying to ensure Randazzo’s appointment.

Asked about it last summer, DeWine said he’s “not aware” of anyone in his administration, including himself, appearing in the document.

Husted also said then he too “does not believe” he’s referenced in the document.

Now we know the unredacted version of the text identifies DeWine and Husted by name.

That’s new.

But when asked about the revelations from the texts, calendar meetings, and emails, a Husted spokesperson insisted, “there is nothing new here.”

A DeWine spokesman claimed the text messages and meetings contain no new information.

The Billion Dollar Bailout

Ohio Lt. Gov. John Husted. Official photo.

In November 2021, the two fired FirstEnergy executives Dowling and Jones pointed to Husted as “likely to have discoverable information” in a shareholder lawsuit against the company revolving around the House Bill 6 energy bailout bribery scandal.

Responding to that, Husted was asked to describe his role in the passage of HB 6 and Husted said, “None.”

But the new texts indicate not only that Husted played a significant role, but an executive says explicitly Husted worked to extend the length of the bailout.

Screenshot of text message from form FirstEnergy executive Mike Dowling in newly revealed records.

While HB 6 was being considered, after the bill was repeatedly criticized during an opponent testimony hearing at the Statehouse, DeWine, Husted, Randazzo and various staffers all met up at 5 p.m. for what the governor’s calendar calls a “Nuclear Bailout Bill Discussion.”

Over the next month, DeWine’s calendars show two entries for energy policy meetings, plus a call with Householder about HB 6, and another call on the bill.

On June 9, 2019, DeWine showed signs of wavering and contacted Randazzo at PUCO.

“Sam, what do we know about whether nuclear plants need this boost?” DeWine, using his personal email, wrote to Randazzo. “One editorial suggested testimony was not conclusive.”

Dowling paid a visit to the governor’s residence the next day. Randazzo responded to DeWine’s email on June 11, casting doubt on the studies referenced in the editorials.

On July 1, Dowling texted Jones.

“Just had a long conversation with JHusted just now,” he said, going on to explain that Husted sought to extend the length of the bailout. “All is well. JH is working on the 10 years. He’s afraid it’s going to end up being 8.”

Court records contain another text from Jones stating that “State Official 2,” later confirmed to be Husted, joined with others in “fighting to the end” for a beefier bailout.

Lawmakers passed the $1.3 billion big energy bailout HB 6 on July 23, 2019.

DeWine signed it into law hours later.

Public corruption

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Official photo.

DeWine and Husted have obvious personal and political self-interest in downplaying the extent of the dirt on their hands in the buying and selling of Ohio government.

They can claim that this regulatory capture and sweetheart lawmaking for donor class special interests — at the $1.3 billion expense of everyday Ohioans — is all just business as usual in Ohio.

And perhaps they have a point that pay-to-play public corruption is indeed business as usual under their control over state government.

But they cannot pretend that the public is learning nothing new with each story peeling back the layers of this disgraceful corruption.

They’ve already insulted the entire purpose of government by turning Ohio into a personal playground of profiteering for donors, lobbyists, and special interests.

They don’t need to insult the public’s intelligence about the reality of that.

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David DeWitt
David DeWitt

OCJ Editor-in-Chief David DeWitt has more than 15 years experience covering Ohio government, politics and policy, including education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS, and Plunderbund.com. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on Twitter @DC_DeWitt.

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