COLUMBUS- The scandal that rocked the Ohio House of Representatives in late July, a $60 million bribery case involving legislators and two nuclear power plants, left a massive paper trail and a list of questions in its wake.
Former House Speaker Larry Householder, along with lobbyists Juan Cespedes and Neil Clark; Matt Borges, a former Ohio Republican Party chairman; Jeffrey Longstreth, a longtime Householder political adviser; and Generation Now were the defendants in a federal criminal complaint for taking $60 million to bailout nuclear power plants of “Company A,” believed to be Akron-based Energy Harbor, formerly known as FirstEnergy Solutions, through House Bill 6. Enriching themselves in the process, the group which the complaint defines as “The Enterprise,” went about creating a team of Representatives that would support their primary goals: reinstall Householder as Speaker of the House and pass House Bill 6.
The complaint refers to the group as “Team Householder,” composing of 21 candidates in the 2018 General Election who received campaign aid in turn for their votes. The criminal complaint quoted Householder as needing $150,000 per candidate, between $2.5 million to $3 million overall, to back them in their races.
No specific legislators were mentioned in the documents as members of Team Householder, Rep. Brian Baldridge, R-Winchester, admits he was a member. Accepting these contributions does not indicate any wrongdoing on his part, said Ohio Secretary of State Press Secretary Maggie Sheehan, but possibly benefited.
“Knowing what we do now, my campaign and many others, including Democrats and Republicans would not have accepted these contributions if we had known what was allegedly happening behind the scenes,” said Baldridge. “I won my race for State Representative because voters connected with my message of conservative values and helping our part of Ohio. Money did not win the campaign – hard work and determination did.”
Among the 52 votes split equally between House Democrats and Republicans, he voted for Householder over Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, in 2019 to be the new Speaker. Receiving campaign aid from Householder, Baldridge said he took a neutral approach in his decision. The contributions did not stop him from meeting with representatives from both candidates and ultimately did not influence his vote.
“Throughout my career in public service, the only thing that has ever compelled me to vote one way or another is my conscience,” said Baldridge. “I, like many others believed that Larry Householder would make a good leader, as he promised to focus on issues that would help rural Ohio.”
Between 2018 and 2020, Baldridge received $374,123 in individual and group contributions. The largest donors, Friends of Householder, Wayne M. and Cynthia Boich, and the FirstEnergy PAC, were connected in the racketeering scheme. Adding up to $61,415, the contributions came from the following groups on the following dates:
Friends of Householder
Wayne M. Boich
On Nov. 6, 2018, Baldridge became the Representative of the 90th District, taking 61% of the vote overall and 56% in Scioto County. Contributions totaled $293,276 for him in 2018, nearly seven times more than Democrat candidate Adrienne Buckler. Buckler only had contribution of $5,000 or more, compared to 23 contributions of that amount for Baldridge.
Later, he supported House Bill 6 on three separate occasions. While it is now known as a $1 billion bailout for two Energy Harbor nuclear powerplants, Baldridge said the bill had many beneficial components for Ohioans.
Drafted by Representatives Jamie Callender, R-Concord Township and Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, the bill created the Ohio Clean Air Program which encouraged carbon-free energy production while lowering charges for electricity utilities. Individuals paid $2.50 per month on average through OCAP, instead of the original $4.39.
“We must ensure these are as clean as practical and we leave our environment healthy for our children and grandchildren,” said Householder in favor of OCAP in July 2019. “This program will steer our state in the right energy and clean air direction for 11.6 million Ohioans.”
Despite these benefits, Baldridge supports House Bill 738, which would repeal and replace House Bill 6. The joint-sponsored bill by Rep. Michael J. Skindell, D-Lakewood and Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, is hoping for more bipartisan support.
“House Bill 6, whether good policy or not, was founded on and funded by a scheme to defraud taxpayers and circumvent the will of the people of our state. It should be repealed,” said O’Brien. “Recent events have been a black eye for our institution, and our legislation is the first step toward repairing the damage to the public trust caused by Republican leaders in the Ohio House.”
“I think we have to remove this dark cloud,” said Baldridge. “But we can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
A repeal must be followed by a replacement, which would still include the positives that the original legislation provided, he added.
Angered by the actions of Householder, Baldridge was among the unanimous support in the House to remove him and later voted for Rep. Robert Cupp to take his place.
“Speaker Cupp brings proven leadership as a former County Commissioner, State Representative, State Senator and Ohio Supreme Court Justice,” said Baldridge in a press release. “Now is the time to prove to Ohioans that state government leaders work with transparency, and I am looking forward to doing so with Speaker Cupp as the leader of the People’s House.”
Baldridge can be reached at 614-466-2124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.