DeWine washes hands of accusations in FirstEnergy bribery scheme with donation

Federal officials on Thursday announced an agreement in the case that would drop the charges in exchange for a massive fine.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, left, speaks between Ohio Senate president Larry Obhof, center, and...
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, left, speaks between Ohio Senate president Larry Obhof, center, and Ohio House speaker Larry Householder during the Ohio State of the State address at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)(Paul Vernon | AP)
Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine acted on Thursday to distance himself from a massive bribery scheme after federal officials announced a record fine in the case.

At the same time, DeWine said his campaign would make a donation to the Boys and Girls Club equal to the amount donated to his campaign by a utility company at the center of the bribery scheme.

That company, Akron-based FirstEnergy, copped to the charges on Thursday in exchange for a record $230 million fine, according to the DOJ.

DeWine’s statement is provided in full below.

The scheme in a nutshell: FirstEnergy, an Akron-based utility giant, gave $61 million in bribes to Ohio lobbyists and politicians, including former GOP House Speaker Larry Householder, to pass House Bill 6, the $1.3 billion taxpayer-funded bailout of two nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy.

The money was funneled through campaign accounts, 501(c)4s and super PACs.

DeWine, who supported HB6, was never directly implicated in the investigation. He called for HB6 to be repealed when the scandal broke in July 2020. But reporting shows DeWine solicited and benefitted from donations originating from FirstEnergy.

According to the Dayton Daily News, FirstEnergy gave $1 million to groups and campaigns supporting DeWine.

A 501(c)4 called Partners for Progress, backed entirely by $20 million of FirstEnergy money, donated $300,000 to a third-party group supporting DeWine’s campaign, according to the Enquirer.

In 2019, DeWine appointed a FirstEnergy lobbyist, Sam Randazzo, to be chair of the Public Utility Commission of Ohio, the top utility regulator in the state. In doing so, AP reports DeWine ignored warnings from consumer and environmental advocates.

Thursday’s agreement confirms what had been suspected following an FBI raid of Randazzo’s home in 2020, that Randazzo took FirstEnergy bribes totaling $4.3 million shortly before DeWine appointed him to the PUC.

The court filing says FirstEnergy wanted Randazzo in the post so he could further the company’s interests, which he allegedly did by passing legislation favorable to the company.

In November 2019, the PUCO under Randazzo’s leadership terminated the requirement that FirstEnergy’s subsidiaries file a new rate case in 2024, according to the Enquirer.

Deceased lobbyist Neil Clark also makes the unverified claim in a posthumously published book that DeWine took $5 million from FirstEnergy in exchange for HB6 and appointing Randazzo, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

DeWine’s statement:

“As I have consistently said, we understood that Sam Randazzo had worked for manufacturing companies, energy companies, and consumers, and that he had done work for First Energy. Sam Randazzo was a well-known subject-matter expert in energy issues.

“If, as stated in the court documents, Sam Randazzo committed acts to improperly benefit First Energy, his motives were not known by me or my staff.

“In light of today’s admission by First Energy, the campaign will make a monetary donation to the Boys and Girls Clubs in the amount First Energy contributed to the campaign committee.”

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