Ohio Sec. of State Frank LaRose won’t discuss Householder connections 

On Wednesday LaRose called former speaker a “crook”

By: - June 29, 2023 5:00 am

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Wednesday said that it shouldn’t surprise anybody who knew former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder that he’s a crook. But LaRose continues to refuse to discuss his own ties to the scandal for which Householder is due to be sentenced today, Thursday.

LaRose’s name came up repeatedly earlier this year during Householder’s seven-week federal felony racketeering trial. In addition, a consultant working with a LaRose-aligned super PAC also worked with Householder’s campaign committee at the height of the massive bribery conspiracy.

But on Wednesday, Ohio’s top elections official — who is mulling a run for U.S. Senate — appeared on Scott Sloan’s show on Cincinnati’s 700 WLW and made it sound as if he’d been an opponent of Householder all along. 

LaRose was promoting an attempt by the state’s extremely gerrymandered legislature to make it much harder for voters to put amendments to the Ohio Constitution on the ballot while keeping the rules for putting legislative-initiated amendments on the ballot the same. Sloan asked whether Ohio’s one-party rule was a recipe for corruption — regardless of which party’s in charge — when LaRose interrupted him.

“Let’s talk about Householder,” LaRose said. “I mean the guy turned out to be a crook. And that shouldn’t have surprised anybody, by the way — anybody that knew him. But he was trying to change the (Ohio) Constitution at the time the FBI was investigating him to essentially make himself speaker for life and that should not be able to happen with a 50%-plus-one vote. It should take a broader consensus.”

Huge scandal

LaRose, who has given shifting reasons for needing to make it harder for voters to amend the state Constitution, has made that argument before

Householder was convicted of taking more than $61 million from FirstEnergy and other Ohio utilities to make himself speaker and then pass and protect a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout that mostly benefited FirstEnergy. Federal prosecutors have asked U.S. District Judge Timothy Black to sentence the former speaker to between 16 and 20 years in prison today — something that Householder’s attorneys told the court would “likely amount to a life sentence.” 

The conspiracy began with a meeting between Householder and FirstEnergy executives in their corporate box during the 2016 World Series and ended with Householder’s arrest in July 2020. By early 2020, Householder was plotting with them and other energy executives to use corporate money to amend the constitution and change the state’s term limits so Householder could conceivably remain speaker for another 16 years

In April and again on Wednesday, LaRose argued that it’s important to make it harder for voters to initiate constitutional amendments to keep something like that from happening. 

“Just remember that Larry Householder and FirstEnergy almost got away with a scheme to amend our constitution and keep control of the Statehouse for 16 more years. Imagine what they could have done,” LaRose wrote in The Columbus Dispatch in April.

But LaRose’s proposal makes it harder for voters to change the state Constitution in ways that it doesn’t for corrupt lawmakers. 

Issue 1, the measure LaRose is pushing, would make it much more difficult for voters to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot and then require 60% of the vote to pass it, instead of the current 50%. And since the Aug. 8 election will be conducted under the current rules, it would only need 50% to pass.

Critics say the measure would make it next to impossible for voters to even get a proposed amendment on the ballot. Under the current rules, supporters have to gather a portion of more than 400,000 signatures from registered voters in at least 44 counties. But under LaRose’s proposal, voters would have to gather signatures in each of the state’s 88 counties, no matter how rural.

Meanwhile, all a corrupt lawmaker such as Householder would have to do under Issue 1 is pass an amendment through the supermajorities in the state’s gerrymandered legislature to get it on the ballot, where it would then face the higher bar of 60% of the vote for passage. Watchdog group Common Cause Ohio argues that the new restrictions would mean that “only special interests with deep pockets will be able to bring issues to the ballot.”

Corruption fighter?

In addition to the questionable logic of LaRose’s claim that Issue 1 would protect Ohio from corruption like Householder’s is the fact that LaRose apparently didn’t raise any alarms during the former speaker’s 38-month racketeering conspiracy. In fact, some of the corrupt bailout’s central figures said they were in communication with LaRose during critical parts of it.

For example, the utility bailout was so unpopular that a citizen-led effort to repeal it got underway almost immediately after it passed in July 2019. FirstEnergy poured $36 million into a dark-money group to fund a xenophobic, reportedly violent campaign that successfully thwarted the repeal.

As that was happening, former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges — who is set to be sentenced on Friday — texted a co-conspirator who has since pleaded guilty.

“LaRose is expecting us to be publicly supportive of him,” Borges said, according to messages displayed during his and Householder’s trial. Borges explained that LaRose expected public calls to recuse himself from the Ohio Ballot Board, which had a say over the repeal election, “because of ‘conflicts.’ He can be our friend in this process, so let’s be prepared to speak for him.”

And as repeal signatures were gathered, FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones texted John Kiani, the chairman of the FirstEnergy subsidiary that was to receive $1 billion of the bailout. Jones’ message indicated that — despite LaRose now saying everybody knew Householder was a crook — both he and Householder had been providing the FirstEnergy CEO with “private” information on the repeal effort.

“For what it’s worth, LaRose and Householder think it’s game over,” Jones told Kiani. “But that is a private conversation unless they’ve told you the same thing. And Householder has a ‘quick fix’ anyway.”

FirstEnergy, which signed a deferred-prosecution agreement over its involvement in the conspiracy, gave LaRose more than $25,000 during his 2018 race for secretary of state.

After the repeal failed, other messages presented at trial indicated that LaRose wanted to meet Kiani, a former Enron executive whom one of the conspirators testified stood to make $100 million off the sale of FirstEnergy’s bailed-out nuclear and coal plants.

LaRose’s office hasn’t responded to repeated requests for comment on the secretary of state’s involvement in the Householder scandal. Nor did Andrea Martin. 

Her firm, ANM Consulting, is raising money for a super PAC, the Leadership for Ohio Fund, that is expected to support a likely bid by LaRose to unseat Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown next year. ANM Consulting in 2019 received $7,600 from Friends of Larry Householder, the now-convicted speaker’s political action committee.

Martin’s firm last year also received $45,000 from Protect Ohio Values, a super PAC that supported Republican J.D. Vance’s U.S. Senate bid. The PAC is now the subject of a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that it illegally coordinated its activities with the Vance campaign during the 2022 election.

Conflicting stories

LaRose last November said that Issue 1 wasn’t about stopping a citizen-initiated abortion-rights amendment expected to be on the ballot in November. Then earlier this month he said it was 100% about stopping it.

In April he said it was meant to stop attempted power grabs such as Householder’s, even though under Issue 1 the mechanism Householder almost certainly would have used would make it vastly easier to get the measure on the ballot than it would a group of ordinary voters.

LaRose also fought last year to end expensive, low-turnout August elections because they allow “a handful of voters” to make “big decisions,” benefiting those who have “a vested interest in the passage of the issue up for consideration.” But this year, he supports the legislature’s decision to reverse itself and put the measure on the Aug. 8 ballot.

And on Sloan’s show Wednesday, LaRose again claimed that the purpose of Issue 1 is to prevent wealthy, out-of-state interests from altering what LaRose calls the state’s “founding document.” 

“What you’re talking about is citizen-initiated constitutional amendments. That’s really a misnomer,” LaRose said of the current, 111-year-old system. “It’s really a special-interest group with very deep pockets.”

He made that claim even though election-denying Illinois billionaire Richard Uihlein has already contributed $1 million to LaRose’s push to make it much harder for Ohio voters to change their Constitution. CBS News reported last week that Uihlein is making such contributions in several states to limit voter access to state constitutions

And LaRose said Issue 1 was needed to stop excessive amendments.

“Really, Issue 1 is a good-government improvement,” LaRose said.

However, Sloan challenged that claim with the fact that of the 20 amendments passed since 2000, three quarters were initiated by the gerrymandered legislature. Just five were initiated by voters.



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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.