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The Power Grab: The Aftermath

The Power Grab - red with handshake and the Ohio Statehouse - WOSU Public Media and the NPR Network

After a seven-week trial, HB 6 offered us an inside look at the ways outsized corporate influence shapes political and bureaucratic decisions in Ohio.

On the finale of The Power Grab we take a look at the cost of corruption cost and if it has led to any meaningful changes in the state.

Over the last five episodes, we’ve covered many angles of the House Bill 6 scandal and its consequences. But there’s more to it. More dark money groups, dark money donors. There are more sketchy connections between utility regulators and utility profiteers.

Transcript
Renee Fox: Warning, some of the language heard in this episode could be offensive to young or sensitive listeners.

News Montage: For the first time in over 150 years a member of the Ohio House has been expelled.

Representative Larry Householder says he's not guilty of orchestrating the $60 million bribery scheme after the vote maintained his innocence.

Householder after the vote maintained his innocence.

Larry Householder: I never solicited a bribe. I've never been bribed.

News Montage: The largest corruption trial in state history begins today.

The prosecution set up that they'll try to prove that Householder regularly called on FirstEnergy to send in money.

What the jury needs to decide whether $60 million was obtained in bribery or in regular political fundraising.

Renee Fox: From WOSU Public Media, this is The Power Grab, how dark money and dirty politics led to the biggest bribery scandal in Ohio history.

I’m your host Renee Fox.

Over the last five episodes, we’ve covered many angles of the House Bill 6 scandal and its consequences. But there’s more to it. More dark money groups, dark money donors. There are more sketchy connections between utility regulators and utility profiteers.

The criminal case is still open.

In fact, on the day we recorded this episode of the podcast, there was a major development.

News clip: Today the former head of the Public Utilities of Commision of Ohio surrendered in federal court. Sam Randazzo pleaded not guilty today to bribery and embezzlement.

Renee Fox: You remember Sam Randazzo from Episode 5? He was Gov. Mike DeWine’s pick to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. First Energy admitted its executives bribed him with $4 million just before he took office.

But he hadn’t been charged with a crime. That changed on December 4. The Justice Department charged Randazzo with 11 counts. The indictment states he carried out FirstEnergy’s bidding in exchange for the bribe.

And, it accuses him of creating a fake identity to funnel money to himself from an industry energy group. A group he worked for as an attorney and an executive director. Randazzo faces up to 20 years in prison. In the past, he’s denied wrongdoing.

On the civil side investor lawsuits alleging the bribery scheme cost shareholders money are in progress.

Attorneys are still getting court orders for depositions and documents and demanding records from people like Randazzo and consumer groups are still waiting for the State's Public Utilities Commission to reopen their investigations put on hold at the request of federal investigators.

And, consumer groups are still waiting for the state’s public utilities commission to reopen their investigations – put on hold at the request of federal investigators.

Ohioans are still paying for parts of HB 6 – the parts of the law still in place.

These are the tangible results of corruption. The consequences of politicians getting paid to legislate.

In this episode, we’ll look at some of those consequences. We’ll see where the pieces landed and hear a few more takes from key players in the case.

But first, what the federal trial against Larry Householder revealed. And how the former Ohio House speaker defended his actions.

Episode 6: The Aftermath

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and Matt Borges – the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, turned lobbyist – were tried in January 2023.

Attorneys for both said they did nothing wrong. But prosecutors had a lot of evidence – undercover recordings made by the FBI, financial records, emails, memos and lots of witnesses.

Two were former co-defendants who agreed to testify for the state. Lobbyists Juan Cespedes and Jeff Longstreth pleaded guilty. They explained how they worked behind the scenes to coordinate funds and push for HB 6. They testified against Householder and Borges.

Longstreth’s documents – spreadsheets of donors and supporters, emails and texts – showed the extensive planning that went into the scandal.

Cespedes described how fat checks exchanged hands. How Householder’s team would print documents, drafts of HB 6, to share. Printing avoided electronic evidence of the documents being shared, an effort to bypass open records laws.

Prosecutors said that of the more than $60 million dollars used to make HB 6 a reality, Householder took home half a million dollars. They said he used that to pay off credit card debt and fix up a house in Florida that was damaged by a hurricane. Prosecutors said Householder used about $200,000 to pay damages in a lawsuit connected to his failed coal ventures.

Householder claimed the money was a loan from Longstreth. He presented himself as a family man, as a politician in it to make lives better.

Scott Pullins: I am a one of many attorneys for Larry Householder and friends of Larry Householder, which is his campaign committee. And I work on the civil side, specifically on campaign finance matters. And I now manage his campaign fund, you know, what's left of it and so on. I've known Larry, he's a personal friend, his wife or friends, probably since 1997.

That’s Scott Pullins. We heard from him earlier in the podcast. He stands by Householder.

Scott Pullins: So bottom line, Larry Householder never, ever intended to commit a crime. Ever. He believes he's innocent. That's why he testified. He wanted to tell his story.

Renee Fox: There is no video or audio of his testimony because recording devices were not allowed in the federal courtroom.

Householder’s criminal defense attorneys tried to convince the jury that Householder did nothing out of the ordinary, nothing illegal. Pullins feels that way.

Scott Pullins: The simple fact is that the only people that are intending to commit crimes do not have teams of lawyers. You know, you hire teams of lawyers to make sure you're doing everything legally and proper.

Renee Fox: Pullins said those lawyers could have explained it all.

Scott Pullins: Throughout this process, he's probably had a dozen attorneys. You know, there was a separate attorney that set up Generation Now and set up the super PACs. You know, throughout the HB 6 campaign, Neil Clark had teams of attorneys looking at what he was doing. You know, First Energy and FirstEnergy Solutions had attorneys looking at everything.

Renee Fox: But, they weren’t allowed to testify. That’s because doing something because an attorney said it was OK, isn’t allowed as a defense in a racketeering case.

Pullins thinks there should have been an exception so they could testify about Householder’s intent.

Householder’s defense said he recruited a slate of candidates to come with him to the state house because they all shared the same political values. That he accepted campaign contributions like any other politician, with no strings attached.

Householder said his connections to utility companies were born of typical fundraising efforts and that being from Appalachia made his connection to energy production obvious.

Scott Pullins: You know, you go out and you solicit contributions for people that already support what you're already doing. Larry Householder had a long, long history of believing that we should be still generating most of our electricity in the state of Ohio.

Renee Fox: On the stand, Householder said he supported HB 6 because it was a good law for quote “Bob and Betty Buckeye” – everyday Ohionas. That he believed in generating nuclear power in Ohio and that he wanted to save jobs.

Householder tried to distance himself from Matt Borges on the stand. He said he and Matt Borges weren’t friends. That Borges was a quote “country club Republican,” while he was “just a country Republican.”

Householder said he didn’t approve of the extreme tactics Borges was directing to support HB 6. And that he didn’t know about the bribe Borges paid to Tyler Fehrman – we heard about that in episode two.

According to Householder, HB 6 got started through a coincidental meeting at one of the biggest sporting events of the year.

Joe Buck Baseball Play-by-Play on Fox Sports: The Indians got him and now Lidor pops him into right. And with this game seven is going to the 10th (inning).

Renee Fox: Householder said it was all very serendipitous. That he had seats for Game 7 of the 2016 series. But it rained. Householder said he realized he’d probably be welcomed in a corporate box. He could hop in one and stay dry.

Joe Buck Baseball Play-by-Play on Fox Sports: It's rained like this already in this game. We've played through it but now we won't So we're doing to be delayed.

There's some heavier stuff coming and that's what they're anticipating.

Renee Fox: He said he stumbled upon First Energy CEO Chuck Jones, who he barely knew. But baseball wasn’t the only topic of discussion. The two talked about how the power plants were struggling.

Prosecutors questioned Householder about attending the games, and he admitted he didn’t know how expensive the tickets were.

Days later Householder was emailing with the executive and Cleveland businessman Tony George, who appeared to act as a middleman in the interaction.

Householder wrote that He was “more than ready” to craft a bill or FirstEnergy. A few weeks later Tony George arranged to get the gang together again. They flew together on a First Energy plane to Washington, D.C., to watch Donald Trump’s inauguration and attend the inaugural ball. This is around the time the dark money groups were formed.

Pullins said Householder made a good case – at first.

Scott Pullins: I thought he did fairly well in his testimony. He did get beat up on cross-examination.

Renee Fox: Prosecutors dredged up a lot of evidence that contradicted Householder’s testimony.

Remember all that talk about saving the jobs of 4,000 people working in the power plants? Well it turns out The First Energy subsidiary that controlled the two nuclear plants was already going through bankruptcy and they told the court they couldn’t honor their existing union contracts.

House Bill 6 squeaked by with one vote, that less than 12 hours before that bad news broke

Federal prosecutor Emily Glatfelter said Householder used his power as speaker to hold the vote before that news was public. The Democrat lawmakers who supported the bill to save union jobs were mad at Householder. They felt lied to because they’d been told the workers would be protected.

Householder denied scheduling the vote to get ahead of the news. But Remember – they tried to requisition a state-owned plane to collect absent lawmakers for the vote.

Neil Clark: Well, so they had five people that they needed to come into town today to vote on this is H.B. 6. So, Larry, went to the governor said, ‘They're not in town. I need highway patrol to go use the plane to pick them up and bring them here.

Renee Fox: During cross-examination, Glatfelter questioned why he could remember some things in detail, but forget simple things. She pointed out that he only paid for that FirstEnergy flight to Trump’s inauguration after the Dayton Daily News wrote about it.

The prosecutor showed Householder evidence he spent more time with FirstEnergy executives than he’d admitted to and that the meetings were less serendipitous than he made it seem.

Householder asked the prosecutor questions and accused her of trying to insinuate things with her questions multiple times on the stand.

He tried to dismiss the idea he was central to the scheme, that he played the role of leader. Glatfelter countered with recordings of Householder’s own voice contradicting his statements.

The federal jury took about 10 hours to reach a verdict.

News Montage: Householder and former Ohio GOP chair Matt Borges were each charged with one count of racketeering conspiracy and both were found guilty.

They now each face up to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors say he orchestrated that scheme with money paid by FirstEnergy through dark money groups.

Federal prosecutors today said that Householders sold the statehouse and betrayed the people he was elected to serve.

Renee Fox: They found Householder and Borges guilty of racketeering. That means they found Team Householder created a corrupt political machine funded by bribery, sustained through money laundering.

Pullins said he thinks the jury got it wrong.

Scott Pullins: Juries get confused. And, you know, it looks bad in appearance, but it's, you know, pretty commonplace for big organizations to wire money in and wire money out of wire money to vendors and things like that.

Renee Fox: Pullins said prosecutors overwhelmed the jury with evidence and made mountains out of molehills.

Scott Pullins: Most of the activities that were examined were all legal activities. You know, wiring a contribution to a51c for organization or to a super PAC is pretty common practice today. But. You know, when you take that to a jury and you argue it's money laundering, for example, and then you overwhelm the jury with document after document.

Renee Fox: Pullins felt Householder didn’t get a fair trial in a few ways. He thought the court made unfair decisions during the entire process.

Scott Pullins: The defense couldn't bring in an expert to testify how, say, Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy has allies set up 501c4 groups and super PACs to show that how. You know, these groups operated were very calm and commonly practiced and legal.

Renee Fox: He thinks there were ulterior motives for bringing the case against Householder –

Scott Pullins: This was a backdoor attempt to try to overturn the Citizens United case and its progeny.

The federal government got in the middle of a political dispute and picked a side.

Renee Fox: During sentencing Householder asked for leniency and talked about his family, his wife and children and grandchildren. Prosecutors said he behaved more like a mob boss.

Judge Timothy Black called Householder “a bully with a lust for power.” He quoted Householder’s own words from a tapped phone call.

Larry Householder: If you're going to fuck with me, I'm going to fuck with your kids.

Renee Fox: He gave him the maximum sentence – 20 years. They took him into custody after the hearing. Pullins thought he should have been treated with special consideration.

Scott Pullins: He put Larry in handcuffs in the courtroom and led him out. There wasn't even an opportunity for Mrs. Householder to hug him goodbye. And he went straight to jail. Those are things that you do for drug kingpins.

Renee Fox: Borges, who prosecutors said got $350,000 dollars for his role, was sentenced to five years.

Householder and Borges are both appealing their sentences.

Pullins said he’s hopeful for Householder’s appeal. But the resources of the government are hard to surmount.

Scott Pullins: You know, they have every resource imaginable at their disposal. They. They spent millions of dollars in this prosecution.

Renee Fox: So how is Householder doing in prison?

Scott Pullins: When you go on trial for your life against the federal government, it puts a lot of stress on your body. Some of us some of us guys eat some of that stress. So he had gained some weight. He's looking better. He's healthier. He's losing weight. And those are all good things. But, you know, at the same time, he he and his wife just had their second grandchild. And he's not seen a grandchild yet. That will happen eventually. But, you know, the fact that he couldn't be there at the bedside and see his new grandson, his first grandson being born is devastating.

Renee Fox: With the feds keeping their investigation open, the state’s regulatory investigations are on pause. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, known as the PUCO, paused four investigations at the request of federal investigators.

Consumer advocates want the investigations to move forward – shareholder lawsuits against the company have. FirstEnergy investors are suing the company for damages. They argue bribing public officials hurt the value of their shares. Attorneys in those cases have successfully subpoenaed records and moved forward while the federal case is open.

Just a few weeks ago in November 2023, attorneys in one of those civil suits asked to depose Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. They subpoenaed records from Gov. Mike DeWine. One of the things they were interested in is his daughter’s run for a (Greene) county prosecutor seat. That’s following reports she got money from a dark money groups connected to First Energy like her dad.

WOSU asked DeWine to participate in the podcast. His office did not follow-up on requests for an interview.

It’s certain DeWine benefited from First Energy’s practice of throwing money at politicians. But, it’s important to note that when Neil Clark spoke in secretly recorded conversations with FBI agents about it, he complained that DeWine didn’t do enough to help. Householder on the other hand.

Neil Clark: He went to war for them.

FBI Undercover Agent: Sure

Neil Clark: He even went and beat them to death.

FBI Undercover Agent: Right. He took, two, two point five million of soft money?

Neil Clark: Yeah.

FBI Undercover Agent: But he went, but he went head charging on. Right?

Neil Clark: Yeah. The governor, when he knew that Larry didn’t have his votes, ran away from him.

Renee Fox: Clark didn’t like that. He expected those obligations to run deeper.

Neil Clark: Those are the people I don’t want to be around. Because those kind of people are the ones that, they weren’t there for you, they were there to take your fucking money.

FBI Undercover Agent: Right.

Neil Clark: And when, when it’s easy to get it done, they’ll get it done for you.

FBI Undercover Agent: Yeah.

Neil Clark: That’s how it happens in Ohio. When it’s easy, they’ll do it. When it’s hard, they won’t.

FBI Undercover Agent: Yeah.

Neil Clark: Only a few, who go to the wall.

Tyler Fehrman: The idea that a sitting governor has no clue that any of this is taking place, it does not pass the straight-face test. It just absolutely does not.

Renee Fox: That’s Tyler Fehrman, he’s the guy that Matt Borges bribed. He went to the FBI and wore a wire. He worked for several Ohio Republicans over the years.

Tyler Fehrman: There was some knowledge there and that he just chose to kind of turn a blind eye to it and say, Oh my gosh, I can't believe this happened, but I don't buy it for a minute.

He knows how to appear that he has his hands clean and appear that he is just this kind grandfatherly guy from Cedarville who throws an ice cream social every year.

Yeah, but if you analyze things a little deeper, you look at the teams that kind of migrate between guys like Larry Householder and Mike DeWine and who interacts with who and how they play the game. I just again, it doesn't pass the straight-face test to say that he had no knowledge or was not involved in one way or another.

Renee Fox: Fehrman thinks the state needs to make fundamental changes.

Tyler Fehrman: There needs to be legislation passed. They need to look at anti-corruption legislation in the state. They need to look at changing the way that money in politics changes hands. They need to look at transparency. They need to look at ensuring that the dollars are accounted for. I think that would be a step in the right direction. But I'll be very honest with you. Dark money will always find a way to be dark money and big donors will always find a way to get that money to the people they want to control.

Renee Fox: And that’s how HB 6 got bigger than FirstEnergy’s original ambitions.

During the negotiations for the bill, other utility companies in Ohio smelled blood in the water. They realized what FirstEnergy was getting. They wanted something, too.

Catherine Turcer with democracy watchdog Common Cause Ohio –

Catherine Turcer: At the end of the day, House Bill Six didn't include just this bailout for FirstEnergy. It also included coal power subsidies. And so these are subsidies that, you know, one of the coal plants it's actually not in Ohio. It's in Indiana.

Renee Fox: The coal industry held sway with Householder. He told the jury the cozy relations were natural – a result of his connections to Appalachia.

He got money from coal mining operation Murray Energy. And, executives with the Boich Company – a Columbus investment group with longstanding ties to coal and FirstEnergy. Their CEO Wayne Boich has long supported Republican causes and candidates in Ohio.

And American Electric Power – AEP, gave donations to candidates and dark money 501c4s. HB 6 dished out subsidies for their coal investments, subsidies that energy consumers in Ohio are still paying for.

Reporting by the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel found the coal subsidies have cost Ohio electric customers millions every year, more than $220 million since 2020. And the tally is still growing.

Catherine Turcer: They're still getting subsidies. And stuff like this comes down to about $130,000 per day. And obviously, this is distributed through all the ratepayers across Ohio. But if you start to think about like the cost of corruption in this particular case with House Bill 6. You can put a dollar amount on it.

Renee Fox: Parts of HB 6 were rolled back after the scandal. In a settlement with energy customers, First Energy agreed to pay them back $49 million for charges they incurred while their subsidies were in place.

But much of the law is still in place. State lawmakers repealed the subsidies to the nuclear plants. But they left the subsidies for the two coal-burning power plants. And like Turcer said all electric customers in Ohio pay.

AEP gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to dark money groups that powered HB 6 and campaigns friendly to their cause. Turcer said the company found several ways of currying favor.

Catherine Turcer: They gave $50,000 to the Ohio Governor's Residence and Office Foundation. Know, and you might say, well, wait a second, you know, what does the governor's residence and Office Foundation do? Well, you know, they make sure that the governor's office and, you know, and residences are kept up. There's fancy meals, that kind of thing.

Renee Fox: AEP reported in a recent financial report that the company is cooperating in an investigation being conducted by the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission. The company denies any wrongdoing.

A Democratic state representative introduced a bill at the beginning of 2023 to eliminate the coal subsidies. Republican lawmakers control the House. The bill hasn’t moved at all.

Lawmakers have also left other parts of HB 6 in place – cuts the law made to renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. Turcer said that will have lasting effects.

Catherine Turcer: And by removing that, we are now a state that is behind the curve. When it comes to finding good renewable energy as setting ourselves up to get off of coal. And that means that we are a state that is adding to climate change. It affects our ability to breathe. So, you know, yes, you can put a dollar amount. But it's also costing all Ohioans and for that matter, it's not like air quality from Ohio doesn't work its way over to other states. It's affecting so many of us every single day.

Renee Fox: Some advocates and politicians have tried to repair the state’s failure to implement corporate separation – to make sure energy companies aren’t tempted to use their distribution customers to pay for the losses of their generation companies. Republican state Senator Mark Romanchuk introduced a bill in August. But, that bill hasn’t made any progress, either. It was referred to the Energy and Public Utilities Committee – but hasn’t had a hearing, just like the bill to remove the coal subsidies.

Hannah Halbert: I think that's actually experiencing in Ohio, is that money is talking and money is walking.

Renee Fox: That’s Hannah Halbert. She’s the executive director of Policy Matter Ohio. They’re a progressive nonprofit that researches the effects of public policy.

She said HB 6 exposed corruption, but the consequences of that corruption have been contained, stifled from rippling into broader change.

Hannah Halbert: Even when this deep corruption is exposed. And there's a personal consequence. So we see some personal consequences, injustice happening through the criminal legal system. There doesn't seem to be a political consequence to that other than making Ohioans feel more detached, more apathetic, less in control. Because all of this scandal could happen. And nothing happens with the policy or the rules.

Renee Fox: Politicians with power have little motivation to fundamentally change the system – they have a symbiotic relationship with donors. And when money equals influence, that means the highest donors set the agenda for lawmakers.

Hannah Halbert: The legislature can quickly pass a tax policy that hands out a billion dollars to certain types of corporate entities. So if you are an LLC or some other pass-through entity, you're you've got some sweet deals from the Ohio legislature, right? But to get a billion dollars put into something like child care or food for kids or to public education, my goodness, it it's decades. It is. We can't afford it. This is it. You know, there's all of these reasons why we can't do that. And I think that's a direct outgrowth of money in politics.

Renee Fox: While it's illegal for a politician to take money in return for doing something for a special interest group – there’s a thin line. A politician might get a donation from a company and later make a decision that was favorable to them – knowing that the money will keep on flowing if they do, and that it’ll stop if they don’t. And, even if there is quid pro quo, they aren’t likely to get caught. It takes a lot of resources to prove something like that.

So, influence gets compounded over time, embedding it, making it more potent and prominent.

Hannah Halbert: We can see that, you know how creating this really negative feedback loop, right? We have money coming in to get policy and rules change through our political system that further benefits the very well-funded special interests. Right. Then go ahead and make rules that further consolidates power and further removes the actual representation from the interests of the individual citizens.

Renee Fox: This negative cycle is fed by politicians that face little pushback for those connections.

Hannah Halbert: There's no check, there's no countervailing institution, whether it's another political party or even, you know, a lot of times labor unions, these large nongovernmental entities could be that countervailing opposition to corporate power or this kind of unfair political imbalance. And without a check to have enforcement to have accountability. You can do what you want.

Renee Fox: Tyler Fehrman said too often politicians fool people about their motivations. They are driven by their own pursuit of power.

Tyler Fehrman: They have perfected the ability to play what I what I refer to somewhat jokingly as like the Jesus, America and apple pie card. Right.

They come across as these very innocent, kind, family-oriented guys who, you know, all ‘Yeah, I'm just so lucky and blessed to hold office and serve all of you.’ But if you dig a little deeper, they are at their core, the exact opposite of that card they're playing. They have just found a strategy to try and trick people into supporting them so they can continue to line their own pockets or get their way.

Renee Fox: Halbert said gerrymandering makes things worse. That’s the practice of drawing district boundaries to benefit one party over the other.

Hannah Halbert: Those same interests benefit from having maps poorly drawn so they can continue to get the policy decisions that work for them. And without the competition, there is no watchdog, there is no accountability.

Renee Fox: That drives lawmakers to the extreme sides of their political parties and detaches them from how everyday Ohioans think their lawmakers should run the state.

Hannah Halbert: We did polling, did some modeling here at Policy Matters on issues that we write about a lot. We work on tax, for example. And so we asked, do you support raising taxes on high-income Ohioans? So people who are doing really, really well.

Renee Fox: The idea was popular.

Hannah Halbert: Something like 70% of Ohioans are like, yeah, we support that's you know, they got you know, it's a fairness issue. People should pay their fair share. You certainly wouldn't see that in our political discourse or in the budgets and bills that are coming out of the statehouse.

Renee Fox: Halbert said this all of this leads to a state that puts corporate profits over the public good bur it doesn’t have to be this way.

Hannah Halbert: So there's ways to make this work and to put people on a level footing with corporations. The corporate interests and corporate power shouldn't trump that of the people. And, you know, it doesn't have to be antagonistic. It just has to be fair.

Renee Fox: Halbert said the state needs fair voting districts and more transparency. Transparency at multiple levels, especially when it comes to interactions with corporations. Corporations should have intense audits to justify a subsidy. They should pay a fair tax rate for the infrastructure they benefit from.

Catherine Turcer with Common Cause Ohio said the state’s ethics rules need a big upgrade. And, she said the IRS needs to do more to ensure candidates aren’t coordinating with dark money groups. She said state lawmakers should change the rules to require more disclosure from politicians and donors.

Catherine Turcer: One of the things that we know is that good disclosure, good transparency. The ability to follow the money is constitutional. That means that both Congress and the state legislature can pass and should pass good disclosure so that we can follow the money, so that we can better understand who is funding these political advertisements so that they are not operating in secret.

Renee Fox: Prosecutors had hours and hours of recordings that weren’t used in trial. And plenty of the ones that were admitted weren’t exactly relevant to the case. Neil Clark had a lot to say about life.

Like the mystery of the recipe for his grandmother’s meatballs.

Neil Clark: I want grandma's meatballs. So we go to her place. The meatballs are made of meat ground beef, Lipton onion soup, brown sugar.

Renee Fox: And, he often thought about power. In his assessment, there are three types.

Neil Clark: There are three kinds of power – personality power, money power, position power. If you put them all together, you’re really a powerful person.

Renee Fox: But, he said getting all three types of power on your side and at the same time isn’t easy –

Undercover FBI Agent: The speaker seems to have a lot of it going on at the same time.

Neil Clark: In the mind of others, he has position power, he has money power. He doesn’t have personality power yet.

Undercover FBI Agent: Why?

Neil Clark: He’s, he’s a hard ass.

Undercover FBI Agent: Seems like he’s a good old boy though.

Neil Clark: He is a hard ass. He lives, he lives in a world like you do and you have this high expectation of people that serve you. We all serve him. I work seven days a week from 7 a.m., ‘til he goes to bed.

Renee Fox: There’s also that time when undercover FBI agents asked Householder how much longer he planned to stay in politics. Clark chimes in, too.

Undercover FBI Agent: Is this going to be your last gig?

Larry Householder: I don't know. It depends on how I feel. Whenever I get tired or I get pissed off, I’ll just go home…

Neil Clark: He’s not going home. He’s going to keep running until.

Larry Householder: They throw my ass out… They haven’t thrown my ass out yet. They’ve tried. (Laughter)

Neil Clark: They’re not, we’re not, we’re not letting, we’re not letting him go anywhere.

Renee Fox: The team thought they’d be rolling on to the next battle – fighting to change the term limit laws to give Householder more time in the speaker seat. They were already planning their next power grab.

Here Clark and Rep. Jay Edwards continue that conversation.

Jay Edwards: How many years you think?

Neil Clark: Well…

Jay Edwards: Fifteen, sixteen?

Neil Clark: We’ve got to make sure, we’ve got to make sure we change the law. Then we got to get your ass over in the Senate.

Jay Edwards: So how do you change the law?

Neil Clark: You pass an amendment.

Renee Fox: Repercussions from the scandal will continue in appeals, civil court cases and investigations from criminal prosecutors and state regulators. But democracy advocates want to use revelations from HB 6 to change things, to shed more light on dark money and the processes politicians use to hold onto to power.

But it takes an engaged public to demand that type of accountability. And Catherine Turcer wonders if that’s happening.

Catherine Turcer: So I think that they're voters that are just like I, I don't I don't know what to do because, you know, utility policy is complicated. So I think that's part of it. And we need to be really clear that the folks that use dark money are intentionally using this method so that they can hide from the public.

Renee Fox: She said if the federal court had allowed recordings of the trial, videos of Householder and other witnesses testifying might’ve gone viral.

Catherine Turcer: Imagine how different it would have been if we had been able to watch the trial. The news would have, you know, excerpts. Or you'd have a short segment of the trial on Twitter or on Facebook. Imagine how different it would be.

Renee Fox; The whole ordeal deeply affected whistleblower Tyler Fehrman. He changed political parties.

Tyler Fehrman: I worked in GOP politics in Ohio for a very long time, for more than a decade. And my party registration is different now. A lot of my political ideology and beliefs on the way things are going within the GOP have changed.

Renee Fox; He left Ohio. He said the whole thing taught him something about the state of politics.

Tyler Fehrman: It's turned into how can I line my own pockets? How can I maintain power? How can I climb to the next rung? How can I make the biggest splash or get the most attention? That's not what it's supposed to be.

Renee Fox; He said the whole thing isn’t just a case of a bad apple. It’s a small sample of the corrupt power-seeking behavior and how it flourishes without oversight.

Tyler Fehrman: I think there is so much corruption related to dark money that runs through every vein of the political system in Ohio, all the way up to the highest levels. I hope that what has taken place with these two and the others involved sends a message.

Renee Fox; But like Turcer, he worries the intricacies of the scandal make it difficult for people to follow.

Tyler Fehrman: People just ignore things. Like, everybody pays attention to, you know, the news stories coming out of Fox News or MSNBC. They run to their they run to their to their tribes. Right.

Hannah Halbert: So it is extremely discouraging.

Renee Fox; That’s Halbert.

Hannah Halbert: We have to keep plugging away. We have to fight for this system of democracy against all of these odds. And ultimately because we have one person, one vote here, people really can make a difference, they really can.

Renee Fox; This has been The Power Grab from WOSU Public Media. Though this is the final planned episode of the series, this is still a developing story. Keep an eye out for updates.

The Power Grab is a part of the NPR Network.

It’s written and hosted by me, Renee Fox.

The show is produced and edited by Michael De Bonis.

Audio engineering by Dalton Jones.

WOSU’s Chief Content Director for Radio is Mike Thompson.

Nick Houser is the Chief Content Director for Digital Media.

Special Thanks to WOSU Program Director Amy Juravich, Radio Operation Manager Kevin Petrilla and Digital Intern Nora Igelnik.

And thank you for listening.

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Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.