Householder uses $920K in campaign funds for criminal defense attorneys

Attorney general says he will file an elections commission complaint.

Former Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder used $920,000 in campaign funds in September to pay two law firms now representing him in a federal bribery case, and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced plans to take action against him.

“This is an illegal use of campaign money. I’ve directed my staff to file a complaint before the Ohio Elections Commission,” Yost said in a tweet on Friday.

In September Householder, R-Glenford, pleaded not guilty to a federal felony racketeering charge. Householder had been stripped of his House Speaker position after the feds in July announced the charges against he and four other men. They are accused of taking $60 million in bribes that was used to elect pro-Householder legislators, get Householder re-elected as speaker, and to pass and defend a 2019 energy bailout law known as House Bill 6. The other four men also pleaded not guilty.

Householder’s attorneys in the criminal case are Steven L. Bradley and Mark B. Marein, whose Cleveland law firm Marien and Bradley received $660,000 from Householder’s re-election campaign, and Nicholas R. Oleski, of McCarthy Lebit Crystal and Liffman Co. of Cleveland, which was paid $260,000 from the campaign, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Ohio Secretary of State.

All of the payments were made in September.

Bradley declined comment and Householder and Oleski could not be reached for comment.

A 1996 advisory opinion by the Ohio Elections Commission says that based on Ohio law “an expenditure for legal fees to defend against criminal charges is an inappropriate use of campaign funds on behalf of the officer holder.”

The federal allegations allege campaign contributions flowed into a dark money group called Generation Now that Householder secretly controlled. He is accused of using more than $400,000 in contributions for personal benefits, including money to settle a personal lawsuit, pay for renovations on a home in Florida and pay off credit card debt.

“It’s a bold move to do this, knowing it would come out in campaign finance reports even before the election," said Chris Devine, assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton. "It would seem to me these expenses coming to light only reinforces the idea that he was also using campaign funds to pay for other personal expenses in an inappropriate manner.”

No Democrat filed to run against Householder, but on Nov. 3 he faces four write-in candidate:, Kaitlyn Clark, Jay A. Conrad, Robert Leist and Marci McCaulay, according to the Perry County Board of Elections website.

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