Updated on January 19, 2021 with information from financial disclosure statements filed by Lt. Governor Jon Husted and Daniel McCarthy, Governor Mike DeWine’s director of legislative affairs.
Governor Mike DeWine and his top energy policy aide Anne Vogel reported receiving gifts last year from a newly formed organization that received funding from Empowering Ohio’s Economy, the AEP-backed group that’s now caught up in Ohio’s utility corruption scandal.
Vogel worked as AEP’s managing director of federal government affairs directly prior to joining DeWine’s office as assistant policy director for energy and natural resources in March of 2019. She is now among the finalists being considered by DeWine for an open seat on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Vogel would fill the seat previously held by former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo. Randazzo resigned from the commission after his home was raided by the FBI, and FirstEnergy revealed a secret $4 million payment made in early 2019 to an entity associated with an individual who then became an Ohio utility regulatory. The Associated Press reported that Randazzo fits that description. DeWine was warned about Randazzo’s murky financial relationship with FirstEnergy before he appointed Randazzo to the top job at PUCO, according to other reporting from the AP.
DeWine & Vogel reported gifts from a 501(c)(4) that spent thousands of dollars on food, beverages, and entertainment for meetings at the Governor’s Residence
DeWine and Vogel reported gifts from the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Office Foundation, which incorporated in Ohio as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit on January 28, 2019, about two weeks after DeWine’s inauguration. DeWine and Vogel reported the gifts on 2019 financial disclosure statements they filed this year with the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Lt. Governor Jon Husted and Daniel McCarthy, who serves as DeWine’s director of legislative affairs, also reported food and beverages from the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Office Foundation on their financial disclosure statements. McCarthy previously worked as a lobbyist at the Success Group, where he lobbied for FirstEnergy. McCarthy also previously served as on the board of directors of Partner for Progress, a 501(c)(4) funded exclusively by FirstEnergy.
The statements do not reveal the nature or exact value of the gifts DeWine and Vogel received. The Ohio Ethics Law requires that the source of gifts over $75 be disclosed for most public officials. According to the Ohio Ethics Commission, the law also says:
An official cannot solicit, accept, or use the authority of his or her public position to secure anything of value, including a gift, meal, or entertainment, that could have a “substantial” and “improper” influence upon the performance of public duties.
DeWine also reported receiving food and beverages from the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Office Foundation.
Vogel reported $94,098.55 in income from AEP for 2019, and disclosed investments of over $1,000 in common stock for several electric utilities, including AEP, Exelon, and FirstEnergy Corp.
After Vogel was hired by DeWine, she began lobbying for the Governor’s Office on a small number of bills that included House Bill 6, which provided millions of dollars in new coal plant subsidies that benefit AEP.
According to a tax form filed by the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Office Foundation, it raised $372,000 in 2019. It spent $182,038 of that money on, “Meetings at the Governor’s Residence hosted by the Governor to promote better and more efficient government.”
Much of that money went to purchasing food, beverages, and entertainment for events, as detailed further below.
The AEP-backed Empowering Ohio’s Economy contributed $25,000 to the 501(c)(4) that gave gifts to DeWine and Vogel
Empowering Ohio’s Economy, a 501(c)(4) funded exclusively by millions of dollars from AEP, reported that it contributed $25,000 to the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Office Foundation in 2019 on its annual Form 990 report to the IRS. The two groups also share a board member, Columbus-based attorney James B. Hadden, who has represented AEP.
Empowering Ohio’s Economy contributed a total of $700,000 in 2017-2019 to Generation Now, the 501(c)(4) group that’s now been indicted alongside former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and several political operatives on federal racketeering charges. Two have pled guilty. Prosecutors have accused the defendants in the Householder case of conspiring to receive $60 million in bribe money in exchange for securing a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear power plants.
No utility company has officially been named or charged in the case, but FirstEnergy is widely understood to be the unnamed “Company A” that federal investigators say served as the primary funder of the nuclear bailout scheme. FirstEnergy says that it has been subpoenaed. The Wall Street Journal reported that Energy Harbor, the new company that emerged in February from the bankruptcy of FirstEnergy Solutions, and which now owns the nuclear plants, has also been subpoenaed.
The vehicle for the nuclear bailout was House Bill 6, which DeWine signed into law in July of 2019. The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority, which Simon chairs, is the program administrator for HB 6’s nuclear generation fund.
House Bill 6 includes hundreds of millions of dollars in new subsidies for the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation’s coal-fired power plants, subsidies paid for by Ohio ratepayers that primarily benefit AEP as OVEC’s largest shareholder. The new law also greased the wheels for a settlement in which Energy Harbor agreed to pay OVEC $32.5 million, and assume FirstEnergy Solutions’ OVEC stake and contract.
The Ohio Governor’s Residence and Office Foundation detailed its spending in an annual tax filing
Itemized expenses reported by Ohio Governor’s Residence and Office Foundation for last year included:
- $49,084: “Catering – outside vendor”
- $33,260: “Food for events”
- $21,333: “Residence equip & supplie[s]”
- $17,669: “Event rentals”
- $14,931: “Catering – in house”
- $5,897: “Beverages”
- $4,451: “Garden equip & supplies”
- $2,257: “Event entertainment”
- $1,815: “Catering – outside vendor”
Copies of DeWine’s meeting calendars obtained by the Columbus Dispatch show he hosted state lawmakers at the Governor’s Residence on multiple occasions last year, including “for a pizza party and summer picnic.”
“And, DeWine brought all his fellow GOP statewide officeholders together for an April 5 breakfast,” the Dispatch reported.
Householder announced the introduction of HB 6 a week later, on April 12, 2019.
DeWine’s calendar included meetings labeled as “energy discussion” with no additional details. The governor also met with Householder on May 17, 2019, to discuss HB 6. It’s not clear where those meetings took place.
It’s also unclear where the rest of Ohio Governor’s Residence and Office Foundation’s funding came from, which raises new questions for Governor DeWine and Anne Vogel as Vogel seeks a PUCO seat.