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FirstEnergy made secret $1 million payment in 2017 to support ‘Husted campaign’

Ohio Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted speaks during the announcement on Friday Jan. 21, 2022 in Newark, Ohio, that Intel will invest $20 billion to build two computer chip factories on a 1,000-acre site in Licking County, Ohio, just east of Columbus.
Paul Vernon
/
AP
Ohio Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted speaks during the announcement on Friday Jan. 21, 2022 in Newark, Ohio, that Intel will invest $20 billion to build two computer chip factories on a 1,000-acre site in Licking County, Ohio, just east of Columbus.

The Akron-based energy company at the center of a $60 million bribery scheme in Ohio gave a secret $1 million contribution to a dark money group backing Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted in his 2018 bid for governor, cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer reported Wednesday.

The contribution from FirstEnergy Corp. to Freedom Frontier, a political 501(c)(4) nonprofit, came at the onset of the House Bill 6 scandal, when dark money groups were being created that would ultimately be used to funnel bribe money to Republican Larry Householder as he secured the Ohio House speakership, elected allies and passed and defended a $1 billion bailout for two of the company's affiliated nuclear power plants.

Householder is serving 20 years in federal prison for masterminding the scheme, after being convicted of racketeering last year. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in a separate state criminal case. He has appealed his federal conviction. Husted was viewed as a leading contender for governor at the time, before he agreed to merge his campaign with DeWine's.

The seven-figure payment was revealed in a 600-page, 2022 deposition of a FirstEnergy executive who was testifying in a lawsuit brought by shareholders, which the news organization obtained through a public records request. The payment was not made directly to Husted's campaign, but to an independent expenditure group. Husted's spokeswoman, Hayley Carducci, said Husted — who is positioning for a 2026 gubernatorial run — was not affiliated with Freedom Frontier.

After DeWine and Husted were elected in November 2018, Husted helped to advance Sam Randazzo as the fledgling administration's nominee to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, charged with regulating FirstEnergy and Ohio's other utility companies. DeWine pushed Randazzo as Ohio's top utility regulator over the strident warnings of his deep ties to FirstEnergy by fellow Republicans, which were first reported by The Associated Press in 2020.

Randazzo, who was facing dozens of federal and state charges in connection with the scandal, including for taking a $4.3 million bribe from FirstEnergy in exchange for regulatory favors, was found dead Tuesday.

Neither DeWine nor Husted has ever been accused of criminal or civil wrongdoing related to either the passage of HB 6 or Randazzo's appointment. However, documents belonging to the two were subpoenaed as part of the investors' lawsuit and Husted was scheduled to be deposed.

Freedom Frontier wasn't required to disclose its donors. Of $2.2 million in contributions in reported on its 2017 tax return, the nonprofit gave more than $1 million to Ohio Conservatives for a Change, cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer reported, a federal super PAC that backed Husted’s campaign.

The Associated Press