COLUMBUS - State Rep. Larry Householder, a top contender to lead the Ohio House in 2019, has returned two large donations from county parties outside the area he represents – after accepting them in an apparent violation of campaign finance law.
Householder, who has constituents in Coshocton, Perry and Licking counties, returned $63,000 to the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County on Thursday and $70,000 to the Summit County Republican Central Committee on Tuesday. Both donations exceeded the annual amount lawmakers can receive from county parties outside the district they represent: $12,707.79.
Householder, R-Glenford, accepted the donations because he thought county parties had the authority to decide whether candidates were statewide contenders, spokeswoman Anna Lippincott said. However, the speaker of the Ohio House is not considered a statewide candidate, according to state law.
"We were under a different impression," Lippincott said. "As soon as we found out that we might be wrong, we refunded everything."
Householder could, under Ohio campaign finance law, accept a total of $63,500 ahead of next year's Statehouse primary from county parties within the district he serves. Republican parties in Coshocton, Perry and Licking counties have not donated to Householder's campaign this year.
In fact, nearly all of the $716,000 Householder raised in the first half of this year came from outside the area he serves, as he focuses on the speaker's post.
Even after returning the donations, dropping his fundraising total to $583,000, Householder was the top fundraiser in the Ohio House for the first half of 2017. He outraised current Speaker Cliff Rosenberger and Rosenberger's handpicked finance chairman, Rep. Ryan Smith, another 2019 speaker hopeful.
Smith, a Gallia County Republican, raised $461,500 and has $473,600 in his campaign bank account. After returning the improper donations, Householder has $400,700 on hand after expenses, according to campaign finance filings that were due Monday.
On Wednesday, Rosenberger sent a memo to House Republicans reminding them of the limits on donations "in light of recent events."
"If you have any questions about whether or not you are legally able to accept a campaign contribution or what the limits are, I highly recommend you contact our finance director," Rosenberger said in the memo obtained by The Enquirer and other Statehouse reporters.
Householder served as speaker of the Ohio House from 2001 to 2004. In 2004, the FBI investigated allegations that Householder and aides traded legislation for contributions. In 2006, U.S. Department of Justice closed the case, saying no criminal charges were warranted.
Householder returned to the Ohio House in 2017 after serving as Perry County auditor. He immediately became a contender for the House's top spot, which Rosenberger must vacate by the end of 2018 because of term limits.