[LFC Comments: We found this 2019 article written by the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2019. It does a good job in explaining “dark money”. The more we read about this $60 million bribery scheme, the more it reinforces the statement “absolute power, corrupts absolutely”.
The massive amount of ad money from First Energy to Generation Now certainly helped Jamie Callender defeat John Plecnik in the State Representative race. Pay to Play??? Householder needed to build his team to support him for Speaker of the House. Unfortunately, money for advertising is a prerequisite for victory in running for political office.]
Who paid all that money to buy all those nuclear bailout ads raining on Ohio?
Written by Josh Goad
Published July 2, 2019…Updated July 12, 2019
This story has been updated and clarified.
If you’re an Ohioan with a TV or radio, you’ve probably heard about a nuclear power bailout bill that lawmakers are considering in Columbus. But what you can’t find out is exactly how much money is being spent on those ads – or who originally gave the money for them.
House Bill 6 seeks to tax Ohioans 80 cents a month through their utility bill to bailout First Energy Solutions’ nuclear power plants in Northern Ohio. Critics say the bill, which also will boost costs for commercial and industrial customers, will discourage the use of renewable energy for businesses across the state. Proponents say the bill will help Ohio stay energy independent and keep badly needed jobs in the communities around the plants.
The bill, which has the backing of powerful House Speaker Larry Householder, triggered up to $8.3 million in ads and other campaign spending, published estimates show. For comparison, a record $45 million was spent in the 2018 Ohio gubernatorial race.
Yet an Enquirer analysis of ad purchases for and against House Bill 6 and reported to the Federal Communications Commission shows just $2.7 million in sales. The Cincinnati market, the state’s third largest, was the leader in ads on the bailout bill.
The big money behind the bill hasn’t been reserved for ads this year. Groups allied with Householder put $800,000 into ads for Ohio’s 2018 campaigns, boosting candidates who put Householder into the speaker’s seat. A couple of the winning candidates also are key sponsors of House Bill 6.
But donors behind the campaign money, and for many of the ads you’ve seen about the bill, can’t be pinpointed.
The money backing the bill primarily started with a 501(c)(4) or “dark money” organization called Generation Now that doesn’t have to list donors. Generation Now then gave to a political action committee, which must disclose donors. So while it’s clear which candidates got the “dark money” boosting the nuke plant bailout went, it’s uncertain who originally contributed it or the money that bought airtime.
Who runs Generation Now and is on its board isn’t clear. But the Columbus address of a longtime Householder adviser, Jeff Longstreth, is listed as the principal office in documents filed to the Ohio Secretary of State. So far, the 501(c)(4) hasn’t filed paperwork with the IRS – a step that such nonprofits seeking to stay in existence take. Paperwork that’s normally filed with broadcasters, listing the board members of groups airing political ads also is missing.
How much is being spent?
Generation Now has spent over $1.9 million on ads supporting House Bill 6, documents filed with the FCC show. This is out of around $2.7 million reported being spent on ads across Ohio on the proposal.
First Energy, which owns the plants being bailed out, backs the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance. The alliance has spent around $275,000 on ads in support of the bill and has stuck to Facebook for distribution.
The opposition to House Bill 6 has put $400,000 into its ads. The total from Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, American Energy Action and Ohioans Against Nuke Bailout compares to the roughly $1.3 million Generation Now has spent in Cincinnati alone.
Why isn’t all the spending being reported?
The FCC requires stations to make ad spending records available for the public record, but only if the ads are focused on a specific candidate or a national issue. State and local issues are not on the short list of requirements.
Some stations choose to file everything for the sake of transparency. Others don’t.
FCC public inspection files show 41 stations in markets across Ohio – Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland-Akron, Toledo, Zanesville and Wheeling-Steubenville – were contacted by Generation Now or other interested parties because they are required to file such contracts by FCC rules.
But 13 stations, including every commercial TV broadcaster in Dayton, did not report how much Generation Now and other organizations spent on ads.
Where did the money come from?
‘Dark money’ is inherently difficult to track. While we don’t know the source, the money can be followed when it changes hands.
Other than the money Generation Now spent in 2019 on ads, the nonprofit also donated over $1 million to the Growth & Opportunity PAC in 2018. The political action committee is based in Lexington, Kentucky, but operates throughout the Midwest.
According to documents filed with the FEC, the PAC only raised around $1.1 million in 2018. Almost all of that money would go on to pay for ads for Ohio Republican candidates during the midterm elections. Though Generation Now did not directly pay for those ads, it did provide the majority of funds necessary through three sizable donations to the PAC.
When the donations were made last year, Generation Now and the PAC had something in common: Their treasurer is from Dinsmore Agent Co, a subsidiary of Cincinnati-based law firm Dinsmore and Shohl.
Eric Lycan, the treasurer and former lawyer at Dinsmore’s Lexington office, would have overseen the donation. He still serves as the treasurer for both the organization and the PAC, and several documents filed to the FEC include his Dinsmore email address.
As nonprofits, Ohio Citizens Action and its education fund report their annual revenues to the IRS but not their donors. The last available filing for the education fund was for 2017, which was posted in January 2019.
Where did the ‘dark money’ go?
Reps. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, and Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, both primary sponsors of House Bill 6, directly benefited from the ads purchased by the Growth & Opportunity PAC.
Of the 22 Republican candidates that received either mail or radio ads, 19 would go on to win a seat in the House. Callender received more in ad spending than any other winning candidate, with $93,000 spent on seven different ad buys.
Householder also had nearly $50,000 worth of ads paid for by the PAC during his election to his Southeast Ohio seat. Another $25,000 was donated directly to Householder by FirstEnergy’s PAC.
Karen Kasler, of public radio’s Statehouse News Bureau, asked Householder earlier this year if House Bill 6 was a priority to him because of his connections to Eric Lycan and the Growth & Opportunity PAC.
“It’s a priority bill for me because I’ve always cared about the energy in the state of Ohio,” said Householder. “I’ll tell you who’s paying for these ads: it’s working men and women from Ohio, who want to save their jobs and it’s Ohio corporations, headquartered in Ohio, that want to stay here. That’s who’s paying for it.”
[LFC Comment: This is an “off the chart” lie.]
Why is ‘dark money’ hard to track?
It can be as simple as Generation Now, and other dark money groups, not filing the appropriate paperwork to the IRS. If a tax-exempt organization doesn’t file for three consecutive years, it loses its status. Since Generation Now was incorporated in January 2017, the three-year deadline is approaching.
Though Householder says that hardworking men and women donated money to the organization, Generation Now doesn’t have a donation portal on its website.
While reaching out to Generation Now for comment, Curt Steiner, CEO of Columbus-based Steiner Public Relations, answered instead. He said that he represents Generation Now and that he couldn’t speak on why there is no donation portal.
Why have the ads run recently?
Many of the ads about House Bill 6 played on Ohio’s airwaves talked about getting the bill passed before the end of June.
Some of the ads feature an ominous voice talking about what Ohio’s future might look like under the bill, others showcase somebody who talks about their life and what FirstEnergy has done for them.
So why the deadline for passage? FirstEnergy Solutions needed to know whether to place an order for $52 million worth of fuel for one of its nuclear power plants. It takes months for such an order to be filled.
Action on FirstEnergy Solutions restructuring plan, filed through the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio, has been posted four times, moves that a FirstEnergy spokeswoman described as “not unusual.”
“I’ve had a number of conversations with (FirstEnergy) going back several months about what the timeline was and there’s always been a little bit of flexibility,” Obhof said.
Meanwhile, House Bill 6 is still awaiting a vote in the Ohio Senate.