Columbus utility gave $900K to groups linked to HB6 scandal

Credit: Laura Bischoff

Credit: Laura Bischoff

A nonprofit funded by Columbus-based American Electric Power gave $900,000 over three years to two groups that don’t have to disclose their donors and are involved in a federal public corruption investigation, records show.

IRS documents filed in November and obtained by the Dayton Daily News show the nonprofit Empowering Ohio’s Economy Inc. donated $550,000 in 2019, $50,000 in 2018 and $100,000 in 2017 to Generation Now, which federal prosecutors allege was the primary vehicle for funneling bribes to former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.

Empowering Ohio’s Economy also gave $200,000 to Coalition for Growth & Opportunity, another nonprofit group linked to the federal case.

“Obviously, knowing what we know now, we wouldn’t have made the donations,” said J.B. Hadden, an Empowering Ohio’s Economy board member.

Empowering Ohio’s Economy is run by a five member board that includes former Dayton area congressman Dave Hobson, former Ohio House speaker JoAnn Davidson, AEP’s top lobbyist Tom Froehle, and Hadden, an attorney specializing in public policy and energy issues.

Empowering Ohio is designed to promote Ohio for business and tourism, according to its tax filing. It has given to charity organizations and political groups.

Last year, it also gave $100,000 to the Rule of Law Defense Fund, $50,000 to Liberty Ohio and $2 million to Open Road Path.

In 2018, its giving included $200,000 to the Capitol Square Foundation, $300,000 to Ohio Works, $525,000 to State Solutions Inc, $50,000 to Rule of Law Defense Fund and other entities. In 2017, its giving included $250,000 to Two Paths America, $50,000 to Ohioans for Justice and $50,000 to Ohio Works as well as other groups.

AEP supported House Bill 6, which extended monthly surcharges earmarked to help coal-fired power plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electricity Corp. OVEC’s consortium of owners includes AEP, Duke and DP&L.

HB6 is at the center of a public corruption case. Former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder and four other men are charged with racketeering. Prosecutors allege an unnamed company, identified through descriptions as Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. and its former subsidiary, funneled more than $60 million in bribe money to Generation Now and other dark money groups. The money was used to elect pro-Householder Republicans to the Ohio House so Householder could return as House speaker. In turn, Householder helped pass HB6 and defend it from a referendum attempt in the fall of 2019.

Householder, former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges and lobbyist Neil Clark have pleaded not guilty. Two other men pleaded guilty in October. FirstEnergy fired its chief executive and two senior vice presidents for violating company policies and failing to inform board members about a $4 million payment to a consulting firm run by someone who was subsequently appointed as a state regulator over utilities.

Empowering Ohio’s Economy board members are uncompensated, according to the IRS filings. Between 2015 and 2019, Empowering Ohio’s Economy received $8.7 million.

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