Democrats: Make DeWine keep all HB 6 info in FirstEnergy scandal

Credit: Phil Masturzo

Credit: Phil Masturzo

Ohio Democrats are seeking to forestall any destruction of Gov. Mike DeWine’s records related to the FirstEnergy bribery scandal, asking for a court injunction against disposing of materials they’ve requested.

Democrats began filing public record requests nearly 10 months ago for texts between DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and their staffs related to HB 6, including DeWine’s office calendar of calls, appointments and travel.

“These are questions we started asking in October, answers Ohio voters deserve,” Ohio Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Walters said Thursday. “But Mike DeWine and his lackeys apparently think that they don’t need to do their job or be held accountable – that they’re above the law. We’re here to make sure they know they aren’t.”

Dan Tierney, DeWine’s press secretary, on Thursday reiterated his earlier statement that “the Ohio Democratic Party has a history of misleading and mischaracterizing our office’s response to public record requests.”

He noted that the governor’s office has provided “more than 4,500 pages” in response to Democrats’ request.

“We are processing even more records in response to these requests, and in some cases, are waiting on the Ohio Democrats to respond to requests for clarification,” Tierney said via email. “This is political season, and once again, Ohio Democrats are trying to mislead Ohioans, this time regarding public records. Ohio Democrats have gone fishing in a pond with no water. They shouldn’t be surprised they can’t catch any fish.”

Democrats put in a request Jan. 24 specifically for DeWine’s calendar from before the passage of HB 6 until recent months, along with 16 other sets of documents potentially related to Akron-based FirstEnergy. They sought all discussions among top administration officials about FirstEnergy or scandal-tainted House Bill 6. That bill, passed in 2019, increased electric rates and provided huge subsidies for nuclear and coal-fired power plants while cutting subsidies for energy efficiency and renewable sources.

The administration responded Feb. 11 with a 17-page letter, which included a heavily redacted version of DeWine’s calendar and requests for clarification on many of the other documents Democrats sought. It cited the public record exemptions for trade secrets and attorney-client privilege to justify the calendar redactions.

Democrats maintain everything they’ve requested should be made available and is of public interest. They specifically requested all communications between DeWine, Husted, 13 current or former senior staff members and Sam Randazzo, former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, regarding FirstEnergy and numerous related organizations.

DeWine’s office responded by providing 4,595 pages of documents, but said the full request had “multiple, fundamental deficits under Ohio law.”

Many of those 4,595 pages consist of unrelated attachments including legislative reports, public newsletters and state or industry studies. Relevant materials include discussions on appointing Randazzo to the PUCO board, emails to and from Randazzo himself, and documents from the aftermath of his resignation.

DeWine’s office says that response fulfills Democrats’ records request.

“We did get some records, but they fell far short of what we requested, including a calendar that was almost completely redacted,” Walters said.

On May 5, the Ohio Democratic Party filed a civil suit in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, seeking an unredacted version of DeWine’s calendar and a detailed, 30-item list of related communications. That drew “nothing but crickets” from the administration, Walters said.

She accused DeWine of stalling to “run out the clock,” potentially until the legal requirement to preserve those records expires.

Thus the party filed its latest request, for an injunction to prevent destruction of the information sought.

“Retention procedures for calendars and schedules are unclear and lack significant penalties,” the request says. “Under these circumstances, there is a possibility that the requested records might be destroyed under the applicable document retention schedule.”

Nan Whaley, former Dayton mayor and now Democratic nominee for governor, has assailed DeWine’s connections to the scandal, alleging FirstEnergy spent “millions” to aid his election.

House Bill 6 included a $1.3 billion bailout for FirstEnergy’s two nuclear plants. Prosecutors allege FirstEnergy paid nearly $61 million in bribes to then-House Speaker Larry Householder to get HB 6 passed. Householder was expelled from the General Assembly last June and faces a federal corruption trial.

In early 2019 DeWine appointed Randazzo, a central figure in the scandal, to the PUCO board. Randazzo resigned when the bribery scandal broke. He has not been criminally charged, but was named in a state civil lawsuit and $8 million of his assets have been frozen.

In November, FirstEnergy agreed to return $306 million in excessive profits to Ohio ratepayers. Months earlier, the company agreed to pay $230 million in penalties to avoid federal bribery prosecution.

A federal criminal investigation is ongoing. Lawmakers repealed the bill’s nuclear-plant bailout, but the bill’s subsidies for coal plants and other projects remain.

Neither DeWine nor any of his direct associates have been charged in that ongoing corruption case. In January DeWine said he would be open to further changes in HB 6 so long as Ohio’s nuclear power plants are protected, but has not backed any specific proposals to do so.

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