DeWine Challenger Seeks State Query Of FirstEnergy Contributions!


Jim Renacci, the former congressman trying to flank Gov. Mike DeWine from the right in next year’s primary, called for the state auditor to investigate campaign contributions from utility giant FirstEnergy Corp.

“I’m calling on State Auditor Keith Faber to conduct a full investigation of the money the governor received from this pay-to-play scandal directly and indirectly,” Mr. Renacci told The Blade.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” he said. “Dollars were funneled through multiple entities, including his largest contributor, the Ohio Republican Party. All entities need to be investigated to get a complete total of how much was received, and then he should pay all of it back, not just a portion of it.”

Last week the Akron-based utility agreed to pay a $230 million penalty in hopes of avoiding an honest services wire fraud conviction in connection with a $61 million bribery scheme.

The filing revealed that the federal investigation has drawn closer to Mr. DeWine’s office. In particular, it has focused on former utility lobbyist Sam Randazzo, the governor’s appointed chairman of the powerful Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

DeWine campaign manager Brenton Temple said the campaign recently cut a check to the Ohio Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs for $130,473, the equivalent of contributions received by FirstEnergy’s political action committee and employees dating back to January, 2015.

This was the net amount of FirstEnergy-related contributions received after other contributions in excess of legal limits had to be returned when the then separate gubernatorial campaign committees of Mr. DeWine and now Lt. Gov. Jon Husted were merged into one, Mr. Temple said.

But Mr. Renacci said this money should be returned directly to FirstEnergy with a requirement that it be returned to its customers.

“Keep in mind that this is public utility money,” he said. “This is taxpayer money. Keith Faber’s office investigates taxpayer money, so it’s the perfect place.”

As part of its deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office, FirstEnergy said it sought to bribe then Ohio Speaker Larry Householder to enact a law providing for a $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants then owned by a subsidiary, a law signed by Mr. DeWine.

It also said it pushed for Mr. Randazzo’s appointment as PUCO chairman and paid the former consultant $4.3 million to avoid a new rate case that would have dealt a financial blow to company profits.

In addition to Mr. Renacci, little known central Ohio cattle farmer Joe Blystone also plans to challenge Mr. DeWine for the Republican nomination in the May primary election.

“The FBI has not been in contact with any of the governor’s office staff, and no one has been questioned in this matter,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said. “There have been no search warrants to date, including to (former DeWine chief-of-staff Laurel) Dawson.”

Mr. DeWine on Monday said FirstEnergy played no role in his selection of the PUCO chairman.

He said his office learned of the purported consulting agreement payment to Mr. Randazzo last October, weeks before Mr. Randazzo resigned after the payment became public in a FirstEnergy filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mr. Tierney said Ms. Dawson learned of the payment in a phone conversation with Mr. Randazzo.

“We learned in that conversation and in a similar way from FirstEnergy in a November SEC filing that this was a contractual payment due to Mr. Randazzo when the contract ended…,” he said. “What was alleged in (FirstEnergy’s deferred prosecution agreement) was not the same thing disclosed by Randazzo and FirstEnergy in October.”

Mr. Householder, who has since been ousted from the House, pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on federal racketeering charges that could carry 20 years in prison. Mr. Randazzo has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.

Mr. Renacci said his own response to being drawn into the 2012 case of North Canton businessman Ben Suarez should serve as an example to Mr. DeWine. Suarez was convicted of witness tampering in a case claiming he made political contributions to Mr. Renacci and then Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, now candidate for U.S. Senate, in hopes they would intervene to thwart lawsuits coming out of California.

Neither Mr. Renacci nor Mr. Mandel were charged.

“Suarez is a great example,” Mr. Renacci said. “I wasn’t indicted, but I paid every dollar back, not only from Suarez but every dollar received from anyone in his companies. You pay all of the money back.”

Mr. Renacci unsuccessfully challenged Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018.

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