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Gov. DeWine: Phenomenally corrupt or insanely incompetent?

By David DeWitt
Ohio Capital Journal

No matter how I slice it on the role of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in the biggest public corruption scandal in Ohio history, I’m forced to conclude he is either knee-deep in the corruption, or he is so wildly incompetent he let it all happen right under his nose without suspecting a thing.

To catch you up, former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for felony racketeering as a result of his role accepting $60 million worth of bribes from FirstEnergy funneled through multiple dark money groups to win election for himself and allies, install himself as speaker, and pass a $1.3 billion bailout called House Bill 6 for FirstEnergy’s nuclear power plants and a pair of Ohio Valley Electric Corporation coal plants, one of which is in Indiana. The legislation also gutted Ohio’s renewable energy portfolio.

Former Ohio Republican Party chair Matt Borges has been sentenced to five years in prison for his efforts to thwart a citizen repeal of the legislation. One lobbyist also charged by U.S. Attorneys later died by suicide. Two other former FirstEnergy lobbyists pleaded guilty, cooperated, and are awaiting sentencing. One of the dark money groups called Generation Now admitted guilt in the scheme.

FirstEnergy admitted to it in a deferred prosecution agreement, where they also admitted bribing DeWine’s appointment to be the chair of the state’s public utilities watchdog $4.3 million. That man, Sam Randazzo, a former FirstEnergy lobbyist, was charged by the feds in December, and by state prosecutors in February, and died by suicide in April.

Also charged by state prosecutors in February were former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and former FirstEnergy Senior Vice President Michael Dowling, who have both pleaded not guilty.

New DeWine administration revelations
This week we’ve had some major new revelations about DeWine himself, showing he texted Jones just ahead of the November 2018 election.

“Chuck. Can you call me?” DeWine wrote on October 13, 2018 — less than a month before he faced off against Democrat Rich Cordray in the governor’s race. “OEA put in million yesterday for Cordray.”

“OK,” Jones responded. “I’ll call at 2:30.”

In another text messages, Dowling says, “Chuck — go ahead and call Mike DeWine on the $500k. It’s going to RGA’s C(4) called state solutions. All set.”

Jones responds, “OK. I’ll call him around 5.”

These exchanges shed more light on dark money records recently uncovered in a joint request by partner news organizations including the Capital Journal, Floodlight, the USA Today Network, and Energy News Network.

Those records revealed that FirstEnergy gave $1 million in 2017 to a dark money group called Freedom Frontier supporting Jon Husted as he made a Republican Party primary bid for the nomination to run for governor. The group then supported DeWine after Husted dropped out of the primary race to become his running mate.

They also revealed that in 2018, FirstEnergy donated $2.5 million to a Republican Governors Association-affiliated dark money group called State Solutions backing DeWine for governor. In 2019, they gave $300,000 to another dark money group called Securing Ohio’s Future, for a grand total of nearly $4 million in dark money to support DeWine/Husted.

Shortly after winning the 2018 race for governor, on Dec. 18, 2018, DeWine, Husted, Jones and Dowling met at the Columbus Athletic Club. That same night, Jones and Dowling went from that dinner to the German Village condo of Randazzo, where they seem to have negotiated the $4.3 million payment that FirstEnergy has admitted was a bribe.

In January 2019, as Randazzo was being vetted by the DeWine administration to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, he told Laurel Dawson, DeWine’s then-chief of staff, about the $4.3 million payment. Dawson, married to another FirstEnergy lobbyist named Mike Dawson, reportedly never bothered to tell the governor about it before Randazzo’s appointment.

Another former aide gave DeWine a 198-page dossier reporting shady financial connections between Randazzo and FirstEnergy on Jan. 28, 2019, but once again, the administration says, Dawson didn’t share that with DeWine. DeWine nominated Randazzo to chair the PUCO on Feb. 4, 2019.

According to the state indictment, Randazzo spent the rest of the year helping to draft and openly lobby for the corrupt bailout. The bailout was passed and signed by DeWine the very same day, in July 2019.

At the time, DeWine’s legislative affairs director was a man named Dan McCarthy, who, previous to joining the administration, was also a FirstEnergy lobbyist, and the director of another dark money group called Partners for Progress, which was used by FirstEnergy and Generation Now as yet another dark money pass-through organization in the bailout and bribery scheme.

More records revealed this week show that Dowling texted Jones and explained DeWine was doing background bidding for the company to get lawmakers to pass H.B. 6 in 2019.

“We know that DeWine called Senate President to express support for HB 6,” Dowling texted on June 4, 2019.

Then-Senate President Larry Obhof wasn’t immediately sold on the proposal, the texts seem to suggest.

“Eileen Mikkelsen and I have been working on a quiet effort with the Admin (at their request) on a modification to HB 6 that DeWine can use as a way to get Obhof to move something good for everyone by end of the month,” Dowling texted on June 6, 2019. “Admin knows they need to broker a deal between the House and Senate.”

Other texts between Jones and Dowling say that DeWine also got a playbook from FirstEnergy on how to “talk about” a negative financial report on the impact of H.B. 6.

“How much rehab of that API report is still needed. He says some lady in Govs office is still concerned about the report?” Jones texted Dowling.

“Mike Dawson is going to ask his wife tonight where we stand on it. He thinks we’re good. But he’ll let us know. That lady is not a major player. Mike Dawson thinks her job on this is to make sure the DeWine team knows how to talk about the API report,” Dowling responded, referencing lobbyist Mike Dawson and his wife, DeWine aide Laurel Dawson.

On the day that H.B. 6 was sent to the governor’s desk, July 23, 2019, Householder ally and coal company executive Matt Evans sent a text to Jones.

“Just talked to DeWine. He will sign the bill within the hour,” Evans texted.

In texts between McCarthy and Dowling in August of that year, the legislative director tells the executive he is sending him a pen that DeWine used to sign H.B. 6 into law.

“You’re the best!” Dowling responds.

On Thursday, we learned that Dowling has listed DeWine and Husted as potential defense witnesses in his criminal bribery and money laundering case.

The best
Add this all up. DeWine was hobnobbing with FirstEnergy executives at an RGA fundraiser right before the 2018 election, then texted them about his opponent getting money right before the FirstEnergy executives set up a $500,000 dark money injection into the DeWine campaign in the final weeks of the election.

DeWine then met with those same executives after the election, the very night they bribed the man who DeWine would appoint as the state’s top utility watchdog. DeWine surrounded himself with former FirstEnergy lobbyists and people adjacent to FirstEnergy lobbyists, and then ignored all warnings to appoint a former FirstEnergy lobbyist as a top regulator over the company.

DeWine’s lieutenant governor Jon Husted performed “battlefield triage” to save the bailout in the legislature; his chief of staff helped coach the administration on talking points provided by FirstEnergy for the bailout; his top regulator was bribed and worked diligently to pass the bailout; and his former FirstEnergy lobbyist legislative affairs director, who previously ran a FirstEnergy dark money pass-through group, lobbied lawmakers for the bailout on behalf of the administration, and then made sure a now-indicted First Energy executive got the pen DeWine used to sign it.

Now, DeWine maintains he doesn’t recall what he talked about with the FirstEnergy executives in their phone calls. He doesn’t remember what he talked about with the FirstEnergy executives during their dinner meeting. He says he wasn’t aware of the dark money FirstEnergy was pouring in to support his campaign. He says he was never told about the $4.3 million bribe his utility regulator received from FirstEnergy. He says he never received the 198-page dossier warning about his chosen utility regulator.

DeWine also says that he supported the bailout simply because he thought it was good law. So he thought it was good law to gut Ohio’s renewable energy portfolio and move Ohio from a leader in renewable energy to a non-competitor. He thinks it’s good law that Ohioans are paying hundreds of millions of dollars still to prop up failing coal plants, one of which isn’t even in Ohio. He thought it was good law to approve a $1 billion bailout for FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants that must not have been all that necessary, considering that portion of the law has been repealed and FirstEnergy is still operating.

When I take this all together, once again, I can really only conclude one of two things: Either DeWine had far more awareness of the corruption racket behind this bailout scandal than he can “recall” anymore, or — being as absolutely generous as I can be — that he is so wildly incompetent, so easily led astray by bad actors with nefarious intent, so naive and aloof and incurious to the machinations of corporate interests trying to soak Ohio citizens out of $1 billion, that he was able to ignore every shrieking alarm bell and glaring red flag along the path to screw over Ohioans on behalf of corrupt special interests and lobbyists, whom he willingly surrounded himself with without ever questioning.

Ohio Capital Journal editor-in-chief and columnist David DeWitt has been covering government, politics and policy in Ohio since 2007. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer and The Athens NEWS. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on X @DC_DeWitt

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David Anthony Mayer (not verified)

22 June 2024

When you get $500,000, how do you forget a conversation like this? Dewine is in the jaws of a starving gator. As a potential defense witness, DeWine is in the mouth of the gator, aka the perjury gator. Yeah, IMHO, he is incompetent. And too far into the swamp of HB6. We still need to know how the HB6 bill was transmitted to the two cosponsers. The digging must continue.

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