Republican Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens and a rival group of GOP lawmakers are both claiming control of a campaign fund that spends millions of dollars helping elect Republican statehouse candidates.
State Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp., said that “after a legitimate formal process,” he was elected chairman of the Ohio House Republican Alliance by the House Republican caucus. Plummer is a supporter of Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, who claims he is leader of the GOP caucus with support from a majority of the House’s 67 Republicans.
But Stephens — who took the speaker gavel with support from all the chamber’s Democrats and a minority of Republicans — is asserting that he controls his caucus and the OHRA, according to the Associated Press. An unofficial political advisor to the speaker even showed the AP an image of an OHRA credit card in Stephens’ name.
Asked about this by the Dayton Daily News, Plummer said “(Stephens) needs to read the law and follow it.” He said the caucus runs the OHRA.
“The caucus voted me in as the chair, not him,” Plummer said. “If he wants a court battle over this, he will get one.”
The OHRA is the House GOP caucus’ political arm. The alliance spent some $4.5 million on House candidates in the November general election, campaign finance records show. It also provided $1.8 million of in-kind contributions to campaigns, such as providing printing, office space or other services.
The “members” section of the OHRA website on Friday was blank, with a message saying “We couldn’t find the page you were looking for.”
Stephens’ spokesman, Aaron Mulvey, said the speaker does not accept public pronouncements by Merrin and his allies that Merrin won leadership of the GOP House caucus.
Stephens supporters note a long-standing tradition that the speaker is the leader of their party caucus, though legal experts told the Associated Press that Ohio law does not expressly require the speaker and caucus leader to be the same individual.
If Merrin were indeed the Republican caucus leader, it appeared to have little effect during Tuesday’s House session. Stephens passed House rules further solidifying him as speaker with the support of Democrats and 32 Republicans, at least eight of whom had supported Merrin for speaker.
Stephens’ allies characterize that vote as a sign that more Republicans are beginning to shift their support his way, while others said the vote was disconnected from the leadership fight.
Merrin’s office has not responded to questions seeking clarity about the division, the caucus leadership vote and access to the OHRA funds.