COLUMBUS, Ohio – FirstEnergy Corp.’s agreement this week to pay a $230 million fine in the ongoing federal investigation into an Ohio Statehouse bribery scheme has generated more criticism from GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci who is seeking to take the 2022 Republican nomination from incumbent Governor Mike DeWine.
The Akron-based electric utility on Thursday agreed to the massive fine after admitting it paid an energy consultant – who DeWine later selected to be chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio – $4.3 million to help formulate House Bill 6, a 2019 piece of legislation supporting a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout of two nuclear power plants a FirstEnergy spinoff owns.
That legislation passed after an alleged $60 million bribery scheme that funneled cash to the election campaigns of various state legislators through a so-called “dark money” political action committee, or PAC.
FirstEnergy has now claimed it paid consultant Sam Randazzo the money for helping craft the legislation and in anticipation of further assistance when he took over as PUCO chair in February 2019.
Former Congressman Jim Renacci, one of two announced opponents for the GOP nomination, on Friday said the unwinding scandal implicates DeWine for “helping create a culture of corruption” at the Statehouse.
DeWine “and key members of his administration have been entangled – and some now named – in this web of corruption, yet DeWine has yet to come clean about his administration’s involvement,” Renacci’s statement read. “Yesterday’s settlement news (with FirstEnergy) proves there is merit to the allegations and much more will come out.”
Joe Blystone, the second DeWine challenger, declined to comment until he has more opportunity to catch up to the FirstEnergy news, having spent the last couple of days campaigning and running his farm southeast of Columbus.
DeWine, in a statement Thursday, denied being part of or having knowledge of the alleged bribery scheme or any role Randazzao may have played.
“As I have consistently said, we understood that Sam Randazzo had worked for manufacturing companies, energy companies, and consumers,” the statement read, “and that he had done work for FirstEnergy. Sam Randazzo was a well-known, subject-matter expert in energy issues.”
“If, as stated in the court documents, Sam Randazzo committed acts to improperly benefit FirstEnergy, his motives were not known by me or my staff.” DeWine said.
In light of FirstEnergy’s admission, DeWine said his campaign would “donate money to the Boys and Girls Clubs equal to the amount FirstEnergy had contributed.”
Randazzo has denied FirstEnergy’s allegations against him.
“I executed my duties as PUCO Chair [sic] conscientiously, lawfully, and mindful of striking the right balance between competing interests,” Randazzo said in the July 22 statement. “At no time prior to or after my appointment to the PUCO was I asked or did I agree to exercise authority as a public official or perform any official action in my capacity as Chair to further FirstEnergy’s legislative, regulatory or other interests.”
An Associated Press report said half of FirstEnergy’s fine will go to the federal treasury while the remainder will fund an Ohio program that assists Ohio residents with their utility bills.
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