FirstEnergy cuts back on its lobbying ranks

Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., which is cooperating with a public corruption investigation, has cut back its lobbying ranks at the Ohio Statehouse since indictments were unsealed in the $60 million bribery case, state records show.

FirstEnergy terminated three lobbyists in February — Ty Pine, Joel Bailey and Justin Biltz — who had each represented the utility for several years. In September, it cut ties with lobbyists Anthony Aquillo, MacKenzie Davis, and Mike Toman of The Success Group, according to filings with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee.

Half a dozen Columbus-based lobbyists remain registered as representing FirstEnergy.

In October, FirstEnergy fired its chief executive Chuck Jones and senior vice presidents Mike Dowling and Dennis Chack for violating company policies and failing to inform the board of directors of a $4.3 million payment in January 2019 to someone who was appointed as an Ohio utility regulator.

This week, FirstEnergy announced Steven Strah as the new CEO. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, FirstEnergy said Strah would receive an annual base pay of $1.1 million and be eligible for up to $1.26 million in short-term bonuses and up to $4.95 million in long-term incentives.

Energy Harbor, formerly known as FirstEnergy Solutions, reduced its registered lobbyists from seven in early 2019 to four now. Only one of the seven — Dave Griffing — remains on the state lobbying roster for Energy Harbor.

The company, which owns two nuclear power plants in Ohio, has said it is also cooperating with federal investigators.

In 2019, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed House Bill 6 into law that would give a $1.3 billion bailout to Energy Harbor and provide other financial benefits to FirstEnergy. All Ohio electricity customers would foot the bill.

In July 2020, FBI agents arrested then Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and four other men. Federal prosecutors alleged that Householder took nearly $61 million in bribes to gain political power and then pass and defend House Bill 6 from a referendum attempt. While the federal criminal complaint doesn’t name the utilities involved, descriptions identify them as FirstEnergy, FirstEnergy Services Co. and Energy Harbor.

To date, Householder’s political strategist Jeff Longstreth, Energy Harbor lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Generation Now, a 501(c)4 non-profit used as a funnel for political money, have pleaded guilty.

Householder, lobbyist Neil Clark and former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges have pleaded not guilty to racketeering.

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