Ohio House Bill 6 scandal inspires more questionable attacks in state legislative races

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A Republican-controlled legislature passed Ohio House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law that’s now at the center of a federal corruption investigation, and a Republican governor signed it.

But some Democrats played supporting roles in the bill becoming law, too, while some Republicans aggressively opposed it.

Don’t expect any of that nuance to be captured in political attacks that are swirling in hotly contested state legislative races.

One audacious ad from the Ohio Republican Party attacks Alexis Miller, the Democratic nominee for House District 89 in Northern Ohio.

The ad attempts to tie Miller, a first-time candidate, to the HB6 scandal by noting – accurately – that House Democrats provided the votes for state Rep. Larry Householder to be elected speaker. Householder and four allies, including a former Ohio Republican Party chairman, were arrested in July for allegedly using more than $60 million in bribe money from FirstEnergy Corp. to secure the passage of the law, which gives a former subsidiary $1.3 billion in ratepayer money to support two nuclear power plants.

“If Alexis Miller’s campaign is supported by the same people who supported Larry Householder, how can we trust her?” the mailer asks.

What the ad doesn’t mention is that Miller’s GOP opponent, state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, was appointed to the legislature by Householder, a Republican. Swearingen also received donations from FirstEnergy, ex-FirstEnergy lobbyist Juan Cespedes, who was among those arrested, and the House GOP campaign committee, which was financially supported by Householder’s operation.

Another mailer from the Ohio Democratic Party ties state Rep. Dave Greenspan, a Westlake Republican, to the HB6 scandal. Greenspan, first elected in 2016, is running against Monique Smith, a Democrat and former Lakewood city councilwoman.

The ad, which references the federal investigation as the “largest bribery and money laundering scheme ever in Ohio, is a boilerplate attack Democrats are waging against Republicans across the state. It might give a voter the impression that Greenspan voted for the bill.

But Greenspan didn’t just vote against House Bill 6, he’s sponsored two separate bills to repeal it, and even went to the FBI, aiding the federal investigation against Householder while the bill was still being debated, court records show. His refusal to vote for it led Householder to ominously threaten him in a text message that made its way into an affidavit from an FBI agent laying out the case against Householder and his allies.

The common thread between Greenspan and Swearingen: both are Republicans holding seats that are expected to be competitive in this November’s election. Greenspan represents a district that includes Cleveland’s western suburbs that could be a top pickup opportunity for Democrats, while Swearingen represents Erie and Ottawa counties, a potential swing area– and as a recent political appointee, his name has never appeared on a ballot.

It’s not just the Greenspan/Smith and Miller/Swearingen races. The HB6 scandal has inspired numerous questionable attacks, as Democrats try to take advantage of a corruption scandal, even by attacking first-time candidates who

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Illinois Democrats look to win more suburban state legislative seats in November despite corruption probe

After winning a slew of suburban state legislative seats long held by Republicans in 2018, Illinois Democrats are looking to expand their reach even further in November as renewed controversy swirls around their powerful leader, longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: Illinois state Rep. Grant Wehrli.

© Grant Wehrli campaign/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Illinois state Rep. Grant Wehrli.

Republicans for years have built their campaign strategy around vilifying Madigan, who has been speaker for all but two years since 1983, but it hasn’t paid off in a big way at the ballot box. This year, however, the GOP hopes its anti-Madigan message will resonate in a new way after federal prosecutors in July alleged that Commonwealth Edison engaged in a “yearslong bribery scheme” designed to curry favor with the speaker.


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But Madigan, who has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing, is only on the ballot in his Southwest Side district, and Democrats are hoping to capitalize on a changing suburban electorate’s dissatisfaction with the name at the top of the Republican ticket: President Donald Trump.

All 118 Illinois House seats and 22 of 59 state Senate seats are on the ballot this fall. But because 52 House and 11 Senate races are uncontested, a handful of competitive districts — largely in the suburbs — will determine whether Democrats lose or add to their veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Democrats hold supermajorities of 74-44 in the House and 40-19 in the Senate, meaning Republicans would need a historic number of victories to take control of either chamber.

Michael Madigan et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan walks out after a House Democratic caucus meeting on Nov. 12, 2019, at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

© Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan walks out after a House Democratic caucus meeting on Nov. 12, 2019, at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

The Democrats not only control both chambers of the General Assembly and all statewide offices, but they also enjoy an overwhelming advantage in campaign cash.

With billionaire former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s funding out of the picture and other conservative donors focusing their spending on defeating Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated-rate income tax amendment, “if it were just about money, it really would be a wipeout,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science with the University of Illinois system’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

On a larger scale for Republicans nationally, spending big to keep the Democrats from picking up a couple of seats in the Illinois legislature “doesn’t really seem like a good investment if you can flip a chamber” in another state, Redfield said.

“But for the Commonwealth Edison investigation, you’re really looking at a perfect storm in terms of the Democrats building their majority, with the changes in the suburbs and then the overwhelming money advantage,” Redfield said.

“If you want to ask the question, why are they making such a huge push when they already have such big majorities in both chambers, one of the answers might be that it’s an opportunity to so damage the Republican Party in the state of Illinois that it will be very difficult for them

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Special legislative committee begins rarely used disciplinary proceeding to look into conduct of House Speaker Michael Madigan

The Illinois House kicked off a rarely used disciplinary process Thursday to probe the conduct of Speaker Michael Madigan in light of allegations that Commonwealth Edison undertook a bribery scheme to gain his favor, with Republicans seeking to hear testimony from the powerful Democrat and former utility executives and lobbyists.

House Republican leader Jim Durkin, who petitioned for the probe, asked the six-member panel to decide whether to authorize a charge against Madigan for engaging “in conduct unbecoming to a legislator, or which constitutes a breach of public trust… including engaging in a bribery scheme and extortion scheme, conspiracy to violate federal and state laws, among other misconduct and misuse of the office.”

ComEd this summer agreed to pay a $200 million fine as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors who alleged the utility engaged in a “yearslong bribery scheme” by offering jobs and other inducements to allies of Madigan.

Madigan, the nation’s longest serving speaker and the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.

The special committee is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, and partisan differences were quickly felt.

Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from Hillside who chairs the committee, said the panel’s first task is to reach out to the U.S. attorney’s office to ensure the legislative committee’s effort doesn’t interfere with ongoing federal probe.

Durkin’s petition to form the committee invoked the House’s rarely used Rule 91, which was most recently triggered last year after then-Democratic state Rep. Luis Arroyo was charged with one count of federal program bribery. Arroyo resigned before that special investigating committee held its first meeting.

In 2012, the process advanced much further in the case of then-state Rep. Derrick Smith. The full House voted overwhelmingly to oust him from his seat after he was indicted on charges he accepted a $7,000 bribe.

That process, which started with a special investigating committee, should set the precedent for the present panel’s work, Welch said.

“We have very little precedent to go by. I have studied the Derrick Smith transcripts all weekend long and we’re going to follow precedent. And we have to make sure we contact the U.S. attorney’s office and get a response before this committee can do any work further,” Welch said.

Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, a Republican from Elmhurst, suggested Welch’s proposal was an effort to bring the proceedings to a halt, and that there’s a “whole host of work” the committee can do independently of the U.S. attorney’s office.

“No one said anything about halting the work of the committee, but we are going to reach out to the U.S. attorney’s office and make contact first,” Welch said. “There will be nothing further until then.”

A majority vote of the committee is needed to authorize a charge against Madigan, meaning it would require the support of at least one Democrat. If a majority was achieved in favor of charges, a 12-member disciplinary panel would decide whether

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Ohio House Bill 6 legislative opponents make case for repeal

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio state lawmakers made their case for repealing House Bill 6 on Thursday before a legislative panel, noting the scandal surrounding its passage and questioning whether the owner of two nuclear power plants needs the law’s $1.3 billion public bailout.

Republican state Reps. Laura Lanese and Dave Greenspan, as well as Democratic state Reps. Mike Skindell and Michael O’Brien, testified before the Ohio House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight in favor of their respective bills that would repeal the controversial legislation.

HB6 has come under severe scrutiny since state Rep. Larry Householder (the former House speaker) and four allies were arrested for an alleged $60 million bribery scandal to pass the legislation on behalf of FirstEnergy Corp., whose former subsidiary – now a separate company called Energy Harbor – owns the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants that stand to receive bailout money starting next year.

Lanese, who represents a suburban Columbus district, noted in her testimony that Energy Harbor, previously called FirstEnergy Solutions, moved earlier this year to buy back hundreds of millions worth of its stock, calling into question whether the company actually needs the bailout money in order to keep the plants in operation.

Greenspan, of Westlake, questioned in his testimony whether the word “bailout” should be used to describe House Bill 6, saying the money for the nuclear plants should instead be called a grant with no accountability.

“How many other Ohio businesses would like to qualify for a grant with those criteria?” Greenspan asked. “The answer is simple: All of them.”

Both Republicans also questioned a separate part of HB6 called “decoupling,” which allows FirstEnergy to impose mandatory fees from its customers in order to offset, up to a prearranged point, any loss of money it sees from selling less electricity thanks to its energy-efficiency programs.

In other words, HB6 gives FirstEnergy Corp. permission to charge ratepayers what’s needed to ensure it brings in $978 million per year – the company’s revenue in 2018.

Greenspan said that “simply put,” it ensures that FirstEnergy can charge the public so it “can always break even.”

House Bill 746 would repeal all of HB6. “We must have a clean slate to start from,” Greenspan said.

Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat who is sponsoring an identical repeal bill, House Bill 738, testified that “Legislation adopted by means of corruption, in and of itself, is corrupt.”

He continued: “The confidence and trust of Ohioans cannot be restored until there is a complete and immediate repeal of legislation founded in corruption.”

O’Brien, of Warren, called HB6 “corporate welfare” and “the worst energy legislation” passed by any state in the 21st Century.

One ongoing item of debate is whether HB6 actually saves Ohioans money.

HB6 proponents point to an analysis from the non-partisan Legislative Service Commission concluding that the law lowers Ohioans’ utility bills (by gutting the state’s green-energy mandates).

But Skindell said that argument is incorrect because it doesn’t factor in the savings the public sees from the

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