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FirstEnergy gave $2.5M to GOP governors’ dark money group backing DeWine’s 2018 bid

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine

By Jessie Balmert
Ohio Capital Journal
USA Today Network
Floodlight and
Energy News Network

In 2018, Akron-based FirstEnergy donated $2.5 million to a Republican Governors Association-affiliated dark money group backing GOP nominee Mike DeWine in a competitive race for governor.

The previously undisclosed money reveals how invested FirstEnergy was in the outcome of the Ohio governor’s race between DeWine and Democratic challenger Rich Cordray. At the time, FirstEnergy wanted to bail out two nuclear plants then owned by a subsidiary but faced opposition from Ohio leaders like then-Gov. John Kasich.

Both DeWine and Cordray had promised to save two northern Ohio nuclear plants if they became governor, and the company chipped in publicly disclosed money to both the Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association.

But newly released records show FirstEnergy donated $2.5 million in three installments to State Solutions, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit affiliated with the Republican Governors Association that is not required to disclose its donors. 

One installment of $500,000 is labeled “DeWine;” the other two are listed as “RGA,” according to records released by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, Floodlight, Ohio Capital Journal and the Energy News Network.

DeWine met with FirstEnergy executives at an RGA fundraiser in downtown Columbus on Oct. 10, 2018, the Dayton Daily News first reported. Shortly after, FirstEnergy Solutions donated $500,000 to RGA, according to tax records.

FirstEnergy also donated $200,000 to the Citizens Policy Institute, which blasted Cordray for being “Republican Lite,” according to released records. Cleveland restaurateur Tony George, a close FirstEnergy ally, was behind the group, BuzzFeed News reported at the time.

In November 2018, DeWine defeated Cordray, 50.4% to 46.7%, as Democrats swept elections across the country. In 2019, FirstEnergy helped Republican lawmakers craft House Bill 6, an energy overhaul measure that included $1 billion for the two nuclear plants. DeWine signed House Bill 6 within hours of it hitting his desk.

When asked if the donations influenced DeWine’s support of nuclear energy, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said: “Gov. DeWine’s support for nuclear energy is documented well prior to 2018, including during his tenure as United States senator.”

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said the company was unable to comment on pending litigation. 

Concerns raised

In 2018, the nuclear plants’ owner FirstEnergy Solutions was in bankruptcy. So creditors raised concerns about a $1 million payment earmarked to help DeWine’s campaign, according to emails exchanged on Aug. 11, 2018. “They cited it is very large compared to DeWine’s current fundraising.”

Senior Vice President of External Affairs Michael Dowling tried to allay concerns by explaining that donors can back DeWine’s bid in several ways, including giving to DeWine’s campaign fund, the Republican Governors Association, State Solutions and the Ohio Republican Party’s state candidate fund.

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Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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