Text messages link DeWine to FirstEnergy dark money payment

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is facing renewed questions about his connections to the FirstEnergy scandal after text messages have emerged between DeWine and the company’s CEO, who was indicted this year on bribery charges.

Cleveland.com first reported on the text messages between DeWine and FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones. The texts were exchanged shortly before the 2018 election when then-Attorney General DeWine was in a tight race for governor with Democrat Richard Cordray.

“Chuck. Can u call me?” DeWine texted to Jones, followed by another message where DeWine notes that an Ohio teachers union had just donated $1 million to Cordray. The two then made plans to call later that day, according to the messages obtained by Cleveland.com.

Jones then exchanged texts with Michael Dowling, another company official who has since been indicted on bribery charges.

“Chuck - go ahead and call Mike DeWine on the $500k. It’s going to RGA’s C(4) called State Solutions. All set,” Dowling wrote.

Cleveland.com obtained the text messages from the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, which is conducting an investigation into FirstEnergy.

The Ohio Capital Journal and others reported recently that the Akron-based utility donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association’s State Solutions, a dark money 501c(4) group backing DeWine.

The Dayton Daily News first reported in 2021 that DeWine met with FirstEnergy officials at an RGA fundraiser on Oct. 10, 2018. The text messages reference company officials talking to DeWine on Oct. 13 and Oct. 16.

DeWine has denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with FirstEnergy. Election law prohibits candidates from soliciting contributions for or coordinating with dark money groups.

“We were very mindful of no coordination between any independent expenditure,” DeWine said when asked about the texts this week by WCPO. “And we followed the law.”

The larger FirstEnergy scandal has been described as the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history.

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison for his role in orchestrating the scheme, and lobbyist Matt Borges, a former chair of the Ohio Republican Party, was sentenced to five years.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Cincinnati indicted three others on racketeering charges in July 2020. Lobbyist Juan Cespedes and Jeffrey Longstreth, a top Householder political strategist, pleaded guilty in October 2020. The third person arrested, statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark, pleaded not guilty before dying by suicide in March 2021. The dark money group used to funnel FirstEnergy money, Generation Now, also pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge in February 2021.

All were accused of using $60 million in secretly funded FirstEnergy cash to get Householder’s chosen Republican candidates elected to the House in 2018 and then to help him get elected speaker in January 2019. The money was then used to win passage of a tainted energy bill, House Bill 6 — which included a bailout for FirstEnergy — and to conduct what authorities have said was a $38 million dirty-tricks campaign to prevent a repeal referendum from reaching the ballot.

Attorneys for Jones and Dowling said the two men are innocent when they were charged earlier this year with bribery related to the scandal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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