Text messages between FirstEnergy Corp. executives indicate Ohio Lieutenant Governor John Husted (R) had discussions with company officials related to the scandal-plagued House Bill 6, according to a motion filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. 

In July 2019, Governor Mike DeWine (R) signed that measure into law, bailing out the FirstEnergy-operated Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants to $1.3 billion. Federal attorneys have since accused numerous political bigwigs, including former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, of partaking in a $61 million bribery scheme to enact the bill. The company has itself been smacked with a $230 million fine for its part in the scandal. 

The subsidies’ full implementation added an extra 85 cents a month to ratepayers’ bills. DeWine and the Ohio legislature repealed House Bill 6’s nuclear-plant buyouts last year.

A text from FirstEnergy Senior Vice President Michael Dowling to Chief Executive Officer Chuck Jones in 2019 suggests Husted sought to impact policy contained in the legislation.

“Just had long convo with JHusted…,” Dowling wrote. “JH is working on the ten years, he’s afraid it’s going to end up being eight.”

In another communication, a FirstEnergy executive described several state officials as “fighting to the end” regarding House Bill 6, with Husted reportedly suggested to be among those officials.

In an interview with NBC4, Husted denied any wrongdoing. 

“I did share information that I believe is important for policymakers to consider,” Husted said in an interview with NBC4. “The lieutenant governor doesn’t have a vote in this. I was advocating for the policy of saving nuclear power plants…. Beyond that, I wasn’t really involved.” 

Other messages quoted in the motion, filed by Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, underscore apparent connections between FirstEnergy executives and current Ohio Republican Party (ORP) leadership. One communication recalls, for instance, eventual ORP Chairman Bob Paduchik’s inquiry of FirstEnergy Independent Director John Blickle about the latter potentially sponsoring a 2019 political event in Cleveland, though it is not apparent that a sponsorship was purchased. (Paduchik had been a Republican National Committee co-chair and would become state-party chair in February 2021.)

Democrats pounced on the revelations, particularly concerning the DeWine-Husted administration. 

“Ohio Democrats have been working for months to get Mike DeWine and Jon Husted to give a full accounting of their role in the FirstEnergy scandal as Ohioans continue to pay $287,000 every single day for Republican misdeeds,” Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) spokesman Matt Keyes said in a statement. “The newly released messages only make that full accounting more important and we’ll continue to press for answers.”

Last autumn, the ODP submitted records requests seeking communications germane to House Bill 6. Dissatisfied at what the party characterized as “heavily redacted records,” the ODP sued the governor this spring for more thorough documentation. Last month, the party requested an injunction to preclude the destruction or disposal of any relevant documents. 

ORP fired back at its rival organization, noting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation suspected Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley of accepting bribes from a demolition contractor when she was mayor of Dayton in 2014. Whaley did not ultimately face any charges.

“Nan Whaley worked for a dark money organization and the FBI investigated her for taking thousands of dollars in bribes, but Democrats continue trying to push a conspiracy about a bill that 12 of their members voted for,” ORP spokesman Dan Lusheck said in a statement. 

Householder was expelled by his House colleagues in 2020. He awaits trial for corruption next January as does former FirstEnergy lobbyist and former ORP Chair Matt Borges. Husted insisted to NBC4 that he shares none of their alleged culpability. 

“The people who did wrong: We’ll see what happens to them,” Husted said. “But what I did was perfectly, perfectly appropriate and [it was] frankly my responsibility to share information about the debate that was going on.” 

FirstEnergy itself issued a statement declaring its current personnel guiltless regarding any misdeeds connected with House Bill 6.

“FirstEnergy’s Board and leadership have taken swift action to address events that have occurred over the past few years and to ensure a culture of strong ethics, integrity and accountability at the company,” the corporation stated. “That includes terminating employment of former executives that were in violation of FirstEnergy policies and code of conduct, bringing in a number of new senior officers and board members, and building a strong ethics and compliance program.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Ohio Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “FirstEnergy Building” by DangApricot. CC BY-SA 3.0.