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Householder trial exposed dangers of dark money and lack of safeguards

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, with his attorneys
Joshua A. Bickel
Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, center, walks into Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse with his attorneys, Mark Marein, left, and Steven Bradley, right, before jury selection in his federal trial, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Cincinnati.

The federal convictions of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges came after seven weeks of testimony that highlighted a political system rife with dark money and lack of institutional controls. Both men were convicted of bribery and now face up to 20 years in prison.

Now there are calls for state good government leaders who are hoping lessons learned from this trial will lead to changes to make Ohio's government more accountable.

Common Cause Ohio's Executive Director Catherine Turcer said Ohioans have been waiting for accountability in connection with the federal case involving wrongdoing in the $61 million nuclear bailout plan involving First Energy.

“It was really hard to hope. There are so many times when there hasn’t been good accountability. It was so good to actually know that a jury of his peers understood that what was going on was corruption and understood that Ohioans were paying the consequences of that corruption,” Turcer said.

The trial presents a real learning opportunity, she said.

“We learned how much happened in secret, how secret money was used to hide money laundering. We understood just the incredible role of money in our elections and legislation and what is clear to me is that we can create a much more transparent system,” Turcer said.

Read More - Commentary: Householder's conviction sends a loud-and-clear message to Ohio politicians

Turcer said there could be more requirements on the Legislative Service Commission records to increase accountability through public disclosure. There are ways to create more accountability in campaign money. She said it’s up to lawmakers to have the will to make those changes, she said.

“Secrets aren’t necessarily bad but in the context of political dollars, they foster corruption. And it’s very important for our legislature to take action to create greater transparency so that we have accountability without the FBI having to step in,” Turcer said.

Turcer said she’s also hopeful federal courts will consider opening up legal proceedings like these to cameras in the courtrooms so the public to watch trials like this one the way they can Ohio Supreme Court cases or legislative happenings at the Statehouse.
It will be tougher to force changes at the Ohio Statehouse Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University, said. Republicans control a supermajority in state government. He said redistricting made it easier for Republicans to hold on to their seats without making reforms or fearing retribution from voters.

"The real disadvantage of this kind of blatant gerrymandering is that it creates districts that are just not competitive. And that really steals the opportunity from us, as voters, to be able to throw the bums out and try the other party," Beck said.

The nuclear power plant subsidies in House Bill 6 were repealed in April 2021. But the rest of the sweeping energy law remains, including subsidies to a coal-fired power plant in Ohio and another in Indiana, the elimination of utility energy efficient programs and the gutting of renewable energy standards for utilities.

There are no current bills that would repeal the remaining elements of House Bill 6.

Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) and Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Westlake) plan to reintroduce the Ohio Anti-Corruption Act, which would require dark money groups to identify their contributors and disclose their spending.
Copyright 2023 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

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.