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3News Investigates: How 'Dark Money' funded Ohio bribery scandal

HB 6 repeal, bill to stop "Dark Money" loophole sought as Householder faces removal as House speaker

AKRON, Ohio — Fallout from the Ohio Statehouse corruption case over the $1.5 billion bailout of First Energy’s nuclear power plants and the role played by GOP House Speaker Larry Householder continued to spiral on Wednesday.

House Democrats have announced legislation to repeal House Bill 6, the controversial and now “tainted” measure that funded the utility bailout, and allowed the company to add as much as $1.50 to customers' monthly light bill.

In addition, the House is expected to vote to remove the embattled speaker from his powerful role. Householder is not expected, however, to immediately lose his seat in the House, a process that could take weeks.

Elsewhere this week, another House bill emerged, a bipartisan measure co-sponsored by GOP Rep. Gayle Manning of North Ridgeville, and Democrat Jessica Miranda of suburban Cincinnati.

The bill is designed to close the loopholes of so-called dark money that allows anonymity through non-profits established under 501 (c) 4 statutes. Generation Now, the fund at the center of the corruption case brought by federal investigators last week, used the statute as a conduit to funnel about $61 million into Householder’s control.

The Generation Now fund was unmasked during the federal investigation, revealing 93 percent of the money was coming from First Energy companies.

The money was used to build Team Householder, a roster of candidates who would favor passage of HB 6.

Federal prosecutors say Householder controlled the money, using it for other schemes, such as efforts to bribe HB 6 opposition efforts, as well as for his own personal use, such as paying off legal fees or maintenance of a Florida home.

Political influence watchdogs say it’s an extreme example of influence buying, shielded by the cover of a non-profit label that didn’t have to conceal its revenue sources.

“This is an egregious case where apparently laws were broken and people may go to prison but you're run of the mill sort of influence buying can also happen without break laws,” said Ian Vanderwalker of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Manning bucked party lines when HB 6 was being considered, voting against the measure last year. She said her constituents voiced their disapproval of the buyout and she merely followed their wishes.

When the plot was reveled, she was stunned by the brazenness. That shock led her to propose the legislation to break up the loophole.

“I think we were all shocked but you know when you saw the number of commercials on TV, you begin to question what's going on here,” she told 3News Investigates.

“You realize it was a lot of money being spent and you couldn’t figure out where it was coming from and that was extremely concerning.”

Secretary of State Frank LaRose said his senses told him something nefarious was in play while the bill was being debated in 2018 and 2019. Those suspicions were confirmed last week. So, too, was his desire to see “dark money” removed from state elections.

“The rise of anonymous money in politics is damaging to the public trust,” he told 3News Investigates Rachel Polansky. “It’s damaging to the civility, quite honestly.

“If you’re going to spend your money to influence the political process, we at least deserve to know who you are.”

Householder, lobbyist Neil Clark, advisor Jeffrey Longstreth, former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matthew Borges and Juan Cespedes are accused by federal authorities in the pay-to-play bribery scheme.

All have pleaded not guilty and remain free on personal bonds. They face up to 20 years in prison, if convicted of the federal charges.