Cupp picked as new speaker; Householder indicted, removed from leadership

State Rep. Bob Cupp
State Rep. Bob Cupp

In span of less than two hours on Thursday, federal officials unsealed an indictment returned against Republican Larry Householder and the Ohio House voted unanimously to remove him as speaker, one of the most powerful posts in state government.

The House later voted 55-38 to name Lima Republican Bob Cupp, a former state supreme court justice, as the new speaker. Two Republicans — Tom Brinkman and Candice Keller — voted with Democrats against Cupp.

Cupp pledged to lead the Ohio House fairly and honorably.

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The other contender was state Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, who has served as Householder’s No. 2 leader.

Householder remains a state lawmaker and is running unopposed for re-election in November. A motion by House Democrats to expel Householder from his legislative seat was tabled on a 53-38 vote that fell largely along partisan lines. Four Republicans voted against tabling.

On July 21, Householder, his political strategist Jeff Longstreth, former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges and lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes were charged by criminal complaint with racketeering. Federal grand jury indictments against the five men, plus Generation Now, were unsealed Thursday morning.

They are accused of conspiring to run what federal prosecutors called the biggest bribery scheme in Ohio history. Generation Now is a 501(c)(4) organization, which does not have to disclose its donors, that federal prosecutors say was controlled by Householder and funded by an energy corporation and its affiliates.

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The speaker is one of the three most powerful political posts in state government. He or she has the ability to move or block any bill and has enormous influence over the massive state budget bill. The speaker also leads the campaign efforts to elect his or her party members into legislative seats.

House Republicans are worried that campaign funds controlled by Householder won’t be available during the investigation. With less than 100 days to go and several competitive races teed up, the House Republican Campaign Committee account has $384,000 in cash on hand, according to finance reports filed in June.

An 82-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court alleges that an Akron-based utility funneled $60 million into dark money groups controlled by Householder and his allies. They used the cash to elect pro-Householder candidates to legislative seats in 2018 and engineer Householder’s return as House speaker in January 2019, prosecutors say. Householder in turn helped pass House Bill 6, which provided a $1.3 billion bailout to FirstEnergy Solutions. When a referendum campaign sought to block the bill from becoming law, Householder and his allies used the energy company cash to defeat the effort, the feds say.

In addition to using the money for pay-to-play politics, prosecutors say $500,000 personally benefited Householder, going to pay off a lawsuit settlement, pay for work done on his condo in Florida and wipe out credit card debt.

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The affidavit sworn by FBI Special Agent Blane Wetzel indicates federal agents tapped phones, recorded meetings, got informants to wear wires, subpoenaed bank and phone records and more.

After a criminal complaint is filed, prosecutors present evidence to a grand jury, which can indict if it finds probable cause.

Householder is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing Aug. 6 but the other four men have waived their right to that hearing.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that he’ll discuss reforms to campaign finance as well as the repeal of the new energy law with Cupp and Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina.