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Ohio Lawmakers Set Sights On Dark Money Transparency

House Speaker Larry Householder
Andy Chow
Ohio Public Radio
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder

Ohio lawmakers are introducing bills that require more transparency when it comes to dark money groups in political campaigns. The bills are in reaction to an alleged racketeering scheme involving a dark money organization and Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford).

One bipartisan bill, HB737, would create reporting requirements for entities that make political contributions.

State Rep. Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville) is co-sponsoring the legislation with state Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park).

"We cannot continue down the path of what is, but should aspire to pursue what should be when it comes to campaign finance reform," Manning said in a written statement. "I believe that we must move past the unethical activities that we have recently discovered that went into House Bill 6 and push for a better, cleaner and trustworthy set of rules for Ohioans that we represent. This legislation is needed now more than ever to increase transparency when it comes to campaign finance.”

A similar bill is being sponsored by state Reps. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) and Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland). Their proposal, which has yet to be assigned a bill number, would require 501(c)4 organizations to disclose their funders, among other things.

"For democracy to work, the process has to be transparent," Russo says.

The FBI is continuing to investigate the corruption case involving Householder, former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges and three others.

Federal prosecutors say a company thought to be FirstEnergy funneled millions through a 501(c)4 organization called Generation Now, to ultimately benefit Householder and get a sweeping, $1.1 billion nuclear bailout bill passed.

Current laws do not require groups like Generation Now to disclose its donors. Watchdog groups point out that lawmakers could have passed in a bill in 2010 that would have shined light on who was giving money to campaigns, but didn't.

“A lot of this could have been stopped if we just had good campaign finance disclosure. And there is no reason we should have to put up with dark money," says Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio.

That 2010 bill, SB240, was introduced by Lt. Gov. Jon Husted when he was in the state senate. It attempted to create transparency laws aligning with the U.S. Supreme Court case "Citizens United."

"I introduced this bill requiring transparency a decade ago, and if it had become law then, Ohio would be in a much better place today,” Husted said in a written statement. "Perhaps enough lessons have been learned to get it passed this time."

Federal prosecutors say more people might be charged in the racketeering case, including some associated with the dark money group that was allegedly used to funnel bribes.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.
Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.