Prosecutors: Dark money controlled by Householder influenced local Statehouse election

Credit: Sarah Franks

Speaker of the House Investigation: Here’s what we know

Credit: Sarah Franks

Feds allege $500K spent to beat former Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley.

An alleged $60 million corruption scheme orchestrated by Republican Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder included hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Rep. J. Todd Smith, R-Germantown, defeat Democratic opponent Dan Foley in 2018, according to federal prosecutors.

A federal complaint unsealed Tuesday by U.S. Attorney David DeVillers alleges Householder directed dark money into the 43rd House District race totaling $500,000, which included payment for an attack ad showing Foley being administered a field sobriety test.

Explore$60 million bribe likely the largest scheme in Ohio, says U.S. attorney

Householder and four others were charged Tuesday alleging they received $60 million apparently from FirstEnergy Solutions, now named Energy Harbor, and funneled the money through a dark money 501(c)4 organization controlled by Householder. The money was first used to install Householder as speaker and then elect and align lawmakers to pass a $1.3 billion bailout bill for the Akron-based company’s two nuclear power plants, the federal complaint alleges.

In the 10 days before the November 2018 election, another dark money group aligned with the enterprise purchased $1.3 million in television ads, the bulk going to candidates in tight races aligned with Householder, according to the criminal complaint.

“The strategy worked,” reads the federal complaint, calling the 43rd Ohio House District race between Smith and Foley, the “clearest example.”

ExploreCounty Commissioner Dan Foley accused in TV ad of misusing authority during traffic stop

The ad against Foley aired days before the election by a group called Hardworking Ohioans.

Dash-camera video showed Foley, then-Montgomery County commissioner, during a June 2018 traffic stop by a Brookville police officer. Foley was given a field sobriety test and issued only a speeding ticket.

“The ad essentially accused the candidate of misusing his authority,” the affidavit reads. “Although the candidate and the police union condemned the ad, the damage was done—the opposing candidate, who reportedly had a 10-point lead before the ad aired, lost the election.”

Smith won the election by 137 votes.

“Am I angry about it? Hell yeah I’m angry about it,” Foley said Wednesday when reached by the Dayton Daily News.

“Householder basically sold the Statehouse to a power company to get himself elected speaker. And in the process of that deal had to get his candidates elected by any means necessary,” he said. “In my case, I believe that he and FirstEnergy stole my election right out from under me.”

After the election, Householder remarked to a person named in the court document as Individual 1 that he (Householder) had put $500,000 toward electing Smith in the final weeks of the race, according to the complaint.

ExploreParty chairman: ‘Ad clearly hurt’ candidate in razor-thin local statehouse race

A copy of the video ad against Foley was recovered by investigators from Jeff Longstreth, a political consultant also named in the corruption case, according to officials. In addition to Householder and Longstreth, defendants include former Ohio GOP Chairman Matthew Borges and lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes.

Smith said Wednesday the news of Householder’s criminal complaint and arrest came as a shock to him and many at the Statehouse.

“I obviously didn’t know anything about this. Nobody did until yesterday,” he said. “I’m talking to our leadership up in Columbus and they’re all still back on their heels. It just came out of the clear blue sky.”

“It’s a terrible thing. I mean, it’s heartbreaking, especially with a man that I revered and just respect so much like Speaker Householder,” Smith said.

Smith reiterated he had no connection with the commercial against Foley that he described as “in bad taste.”

“I saw that first commercial they ran against Commissioner Foley and it was offensive,” Smith said. “I mean you can’t show a video of a guy who’s totally sociable and kind and then call him a drunk.”

Foley said House Bill 6, the 2019 FirstEnergy bailout, needs to be repealed “like yesterday.”

“I think what you saw in that affidavit is a guy (Householder) who was so hungry for power that he really didn’t care about policy, he didn’t care about people, all he cared about was money and power,” Foley said.

Smith, who voted for House Bill 6, said he would vote the same way today, saying it saved jobs and kept energy costs down for Ohioans.

Foley said he wanted to go to serve in the Statehouse and work on policies to improve mental health care and the criminal justice system, among others.

“After I read that affidavit yesterday, that’s where my anger emanates from, because I wanted to go there and help people,” he said.

Smith announced in January he was not seeking re-election but his name remained on this year’s Republican primary, won by Rodney Creech.

Creech will face Democratic opponent Amy Cox for the seat in November.

The 43rd House District covers parts of Englewood, Clayton, Trotwood, western Montgomery County and all of Preble County.