FirstEnergy provided draft testimony to county and school officials who testified in support of enacting House Bill 6, Ohio’s controversial new law that bails out coal and nuclear power plants at consumers’ expense and rolls back the state’s clean energy standards.
Emails and documents obtained through public records requests filed by the Energy and Policy Institute reveal in new detail how FirstEnergy Corp. and its bankrupt subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions (FES) provided much of the written testimony delivered earlier this year by several public officials who supported HB 6 in the Ohio House and Senate.
Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro, Lake County Commissioner Jerry Cirino, and Perry Local Schools Superintendent Dr. Jack Thompson received draft testimony from members of FirstEnergy’s external affairs team or the utility’s army of political consultants. The officials were all early members of the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance (OCEJA), the FirstEnergy-backed coalition that supported HB 6.
Shapiro has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from FirstEnergy Corp.’s PAC. Her chief of staff Jason Dodson coordinated with FirstEnergy on Shapiro’s testimony and later got a new job with Roetzel Consulting Solutions, a lobbying firm employed by FES.
The records also show that Alex Thomas, a lobbyist for FES at Roetzel Consulting Solutions, provided the text of an “HB 6 support letter sign on letter” that was signed by thirty-eight OCEJA supporters and submitted for the record of a state senate committee hearing on the bailout bill. Thomas is now the treasurer of Protect Ohio Clean Energy Jobs, a pro-HB 6 ballot issue PAC that’s fighting to stop a referendum that would give Ohio voters a chance to overturn HB 6 from reaching the ballot in 2020.
Along with earlier research, the records provide further evidence that the Dewey Square Group, a political consulting firm employed by FES, played a role in the testimony of many other HB 6 proponents affiliated with OCEJA. FES has paid the Dewey Square Group over $800,000 since declaring bankruptcy last year.
Carlo LoParo, the spokesperson for OCEJA, admitted earlier this year that the coalition “played a role in mobilizing strong support for House Bill 6 ahead of one hearing on the bill, including providing a suggested framework and consolidating, converting to PDF’s, and submitting testimony to the committee.”
The records described below in more detail below show the role that FirstEnergy and its political consultants played in testimony by HB 6 proponents went far beyond what LoParo described.
Like OCEJA‘s messaging throughout the HB 6 debate, the draft testimony provided by FirstEnergy focused on the economic benefits that the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants generate for the communities where they are based, while ignoring the broader economic impact the bill would have on other communities. The draft testimony also described HB 6 as a clean energy bill that would save zero-emissions nuclear plants from closure, while ignoring the bill’s rollback of Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, and its extension of subsidies for carbon-emitting coal plants.
Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro received draft testimony and campaign cash from FirstEnergy, and her chief of staff got a job with one of the utility’s lobbying firms
Shapiro, a Democrat, received a $1,000 campaign contribution from the FirstEnergy Corp. PAC on February 21. A little over a month later, Shapiro’s name appeared on a letter asking Governor Mike DeWine to back legislation supporting FES’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants. The letter was released publicly by OCEJA and LoParo.
Then on April 9, three days before HB 6 was introduced, Murphy Montler sent Jason Dodson, then chief of staff for Summit County, a text message with an “Update on Legislative Hearings” scheduled for the following week.
Montler, who died in September, “retired” from FirstEnergy Corp. last year, but had since “been serving as a consultant to FirstEnergy Solutions to garner support for Ohio House Bill 6.”
“Really hope the Ilene can be there,” Montler texted to Dodson.
“Our lobbyist in Columbus will ensure that Ilene gets to be the first to testify,” Montler texted the next day, with a promise to call Dodson as soon as the hearing was scheduled.
“Ok perfect. Thank you!!” Dodson responded.
Dodson then texted Montler on April 14.
“Hey Murphy- any chance I could get the draft testimony today?” Dodson said.
“Jason. I have a message out to our consultant from Akin Gump on the status of Ilene’s Testimony – it was to be completed this weekend,” Montler wrote. “I’ll let you know.”
Akin Gump is the law firm that FES has paid millions of dollars to represent it in its bankruptcy case, and to lobby on legislation like HB 6. A monthly fee statement for April that the firm filed in FES’s bankruptcy case described its work related to legislative hearings in Ohio and Pennsylvania, including work on drafting, editing, and reviewing testimony.
Later that night, Dodson received an email from Murphy Montler with the “draft testimony” for Shapiro to review and comment on ahead of an Ohio House subcommittee hearing on HB 6. The email was sent from Montler’s email address at firstenergycorp.com.
Carbon copied in Montler’s email was David Griffing, vice president of governmental affairs for FES, and Christopher Curry of the Dewey Square Group. Griffing also testified at the hearing.
The next day, Montler texted Dodson again.
“When you finish Ilene’s testimony, send me a copy and I will file her testimony,” Montler said.
“Perfect. Sending over now. Please make sure with my edits that everything is still accurate,” Dodson responded.
Dodson emailed Montler back with some edits and additions to the draft testimony.
Curry then emailed Dodson and Shapiro the day before the hearing with “a slight change to the intro paragraph” to recognize the co-chairs of the sub-committee.
Around a half-hour later, Montler sent another email to Dodson, Shapiro and many of the other witnesses who testified as proponents of HB 6 at the same April 17 hearing, including:
- Dean Murphy, Brattle Group
- Jerry Cirino, Lake County Commissioner
- Michael Joyce, Orrvilon Inc.
- Terry Joyce, Laborer’s Local 310
- Jamie Beier Grant, Ottawa County Improvement Corporation
“Hello Everyone,” Montler’s email began.
“Chris Curry – Dewey Square, will be sending you your final written testimony for the Energy Generation Subcommittee Hearing tomorrow,” he wrote.
Christine Cmizmadia, director of state government affairs and advocacy for the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), was also included in Montler’s email. Maria Korsnic, the president and CEO of NEI, testified at the hearing. CCed on the email were Curry, Griffing, and Juan Cespedes, a lobbyist for FES at the Oxley Group.
The final version of Shapiro’s written testimony that was delivered to the sub-committee still included most of the language found in the original draft provided by Montler. A CopyLeaks analysis found around 69 percent of the words in Shapiro’s final written testimony were “copied” from the draft and the “slight change” provided by Montler and Curry. The CopyLeaks analysis excluded the language found in the generic header listing Shapiro’s name, title and the committee’s name.
Montler also emailed Dodson and Shapiro with further instructions for the hearing. One email from Murphy said that the Columbus offices of Roetzel & Andress, which lobbied on HB 6 for FES, “are open from 8 am – 4 p.m. for our Proponent Witnesses.”
Dodson, the Summit County chief of staff, was hired in June by Roetzel & Andress and its wholly-owned subsidiary Roetzel Consulting Solutions, which lobbied on HB 6 for FES. Dodson will continue to work for Summit County through a $90,000 contract with Roetzel, if the deal is approved by the county.
The Akron-based Tri-County Building Trades Council contributed $1,000 to sponsor a hole at Elect Ilene Shapiro’s golf outing on June 14. The fundraising event included lunch, cocktails and dinner. Shapiro’s golf fundraiser was promoted by the Summit County Democrats, which received $1,500 from FirstEnergy Corp. PAC on June 14.
Mark Douglas, president of the Tri-County Building Trades Council, was copied in some of the emails that Montler sent to Dodson and Shapiro. Douglas testified in support of HB 6 at a June 12 Ohio Senate committee hearing.
Shapiro’s record of receiving campaign cash from FirstEnergy’s PAC and supporting the utility’s bailout bills dates at least back to 2017, when she testified in favor of an earlier bill to subsidize FirstEnergy’s “Zero Emissions Nuclear” (or ZEN) plants in Ohio. Her testimony to an Ohio House committee hearing that year was emailed to lawmakers along with testimony by other ZEN bill proponents by Ty Pine, a lobbyist for FirstEnergy. FirstEnergy’s PAC contributed $2,000 to Elect Ilene Shapiro that year.
In 2018, Shapiro joined the newly launched OCEJA coalition and received another $2,000 in campaign cash from FirstEnergy.
Lake County Commissioner Jerry Cirino also received draft testimony from FirstEnergy
Cirino also received draft testimony from Montler on April 14. Copied in Montler’s email to Cirino were Curry and Wendy Zele, FirstEnergy Corp.’s manager of external affairs for Ashtabula and Lake County.
At least 93 percent of the words included in Cirino’s final written testimony to the Ohio House subcommittee on April 17 were “copied” from the draft testimony provided by Montler, according to a CopyLeaks analysis of the two documents.
Montler emailed Cirino again on June 5 about an upcoming Ohio Senate committee hearing on HB 6, and asked if Cirino would be available to testify.
“As before, we will gladly help you develop or review your written testimony,” Montler wrote in his email.
Cirino agreed to testify again.
“Attached is some of the information you requested,” Montler wrote a day later. “Chris Curry – copied on this email, will help with drafting your testimony. I’m sure you’ll want to incorporate some of the information contained in the attachment in your testimony.”
The attachment included talking points on the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants.
“Commissioner Cirino – we will plan to use your previous testimony as a starting point and incorporate some additional information related to benefits of the legislation,” Curry wrote to Cirino that same day.
“Thanks Chris. I will await your draft,” Cirino responded.
Curry emailed Cirino again the next day with a copy of the draft testimony.
At least 70 percent of Cirino’s written testimony to the Ohio Senate committee on June 12 was “copied” from the draft testimony he received from Curry.
Cirino, a Republican, is now running for a seat in the Ohio Senate. In July, he received a $500 campaign contribution from Anthony Alexander, the retired former CEO of FirstEnergy Corp.
Perry Local Schools Superintendent Jack Thompson received draft testimony
Thompson got an email from Wendy Zele of FirstEnergy Corp. on May 13.
“Thanks so much for your willingness to help with the final hearing in the Ohio House regarding HB6 (Ohio Clean Air Program),” Zele wrote in her email.
“As far as written testimony is concerned, we will be getting a draft copy to you soon,” Zele also said.
“Dr. Thompson – Here is your draft testimony,” Zele said in another email to Thompson sent later that day, with the draft testimony attached. “Feel free to edit as you deem necessary. Thank you again.”
On May 14, Thompson emailed Zele and Jonathan Drobis of the Dewey Square Group his witness form and testimony for delivery to the committee’s chair.
The language found in Thompson’s written testimony to the committee on May 15 was 100% “copied” from the draft Zele provided, according to a CopyLeaks analysis.
Curry also emailed the day before the hearing with instructions for HB 6 proponent witnesses.
“Each individual who wishes to testify will have approximately 5 minutes to read their testimonies,” Curry wrote. “Feel free to add additional personalization to your testimony. This is a chance for legislators to hear from you about why you support this bill.”
Metadata reviewed by the Energy & Policy Institute later identified Curry as the “author” of written testimony by seven other HB 6 proponents who testified at the May 15 hearing.
In his email, Curry also encouraged witnesses to “spend some time in the afternoon speaking with individual legislators.”
“Packets of information about the bill and what to say to legislators will be available in our private room (Governor Thomas Worthington Center),” Curry wrote.
He also encouraged witnessed to stop by the same room in the State House to “grab refreshments, and pick up lunch during the lunch break.”
Alex Thomas, the lobbyist for FES at Roetzel Consulting Solutions, included Thompson on a June 8 email seeking signatures on a letter supporting HB 6 for an Ohio Senate committee hearing. A draft of the letter was attached.
Thompson soon received another email from Montler on June 10, asking “if you’re okay with us submitting written testimony in your name to the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee.”
Attached was the draft testimony, which used the same wording as Thompson’s earlier written testimony to the House committee. CCed were Zele and Curry.
“Yes, thank you for submitting this testimony on my behalf,” Thompson responded, indicating he would not be available to testify in person at the hearing.
“Thank you! We will submit it for the record,” Curry wrote back.
Thompson’s testimony and the OCEJA letter he signed onto were both submitted for the same hearing. Cirino also signed onto the same letter.
After HB 6 passed, Thompson joined with Cirino to host a “Securing our Future” celebration at the Perry High School.
“We anticipate Goodwin Theatre will be packed with PNPP (Perry Nuclear Power Plant) employees and members of Perry and surrounding communities ready to demonstrate their appreciation and celebrate the passing of HB 6,” Thompson said in a message about the event, which took place at the Perry High School, that was posted online.
Prior to the event, Zele sent Thompson an email with “FW: Speech words” as the subject line.
“Jack – Below is a recommendation for acknowledging the Perry employees,” Zele wrote.
Below was a message to Zele with the recommended “Speech words” from Diane Jacoby, FirstEnergy’s communications director for the Perry nuclear power plant.
What else is in the emails?
The emails also show FirstEnergy’s efforts to turn out HB 6 proponents to the Ohio Statehouse, and “flood” legislators with phone calls and emails at key moments in the legislative debate. Some directed supporters to contact legislators through OCEJA’s website.
Other employees of FirstEnergy popped up in the emails too. In one Montler email, CCed are Daniel Deville, manager of Regional External Affairs for Ohio Edison, and Kirk Gardner, another member of FirstEnergy Corp.’s external affairs team. Hans Rosebrook, FirstEnergy’s external affairs advisor for northwest Ohio, was also CCed on some of the emails.
Montler and Zele were not listed on state legislative lobbying reports filed this year by FirstEnergy Corp. and CES.