Ohioans for Energy Security, a new entity blanketing Ohio with a wave of television ads defending the bailout of FirstEnergy Solutions, is brought to you by the same people who campaigned for the controversial bailout plan.
The group formed last month in Ohio as a for-profit Limited Liability Corporation. It just launched a $1 million ad campaign designed to scare voters away from signing petitions to place a referendum on House Bill 6 on the 2020 ballot. The bill in question, passed by the Ohio General Assembly and signed by Governor Mike DeWine in July, will force Ohio consumers to pay to bail out uncompetitive nuclear and coal plants in Ohio. It also rolls back Ohio’s life-and-money saving clean energy standards, which helped to support 112,000 jobs in the Buckeye State.
“In the coming weeks, don’t give your information to the Chinese government,” Ohioans for Energy Security tells visitors to its website. “Don’t sign their petition allowing China control over Ohio.”
Ohioans for Energy Security’s website tells voters to call its hotline to report petition gatherers. Petition signatures for statewide referendums are submitted to the Ohio Secretary of State and Attorney General, not the Chinese government.
Ohioans for Energy Security points to several reports that the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has been among the banks that financed several new gas projects in Ohio developed by Clean Energy Future, a company that opposed HB 6.
The Columbus Dispatch reviewed those reports and concluded that “the group behind the commercial offered no evidence that such a plot exists.” It didn’t find “any evidence that the Chinese government intends to play a role in the possible repeal of House Bill 6.”
The Cleveland Scene writes that the group’s “bonkers” first ad “continues with even less tenuous grasps on the issues surrounding HB 6.”
Ohioans for Energy Security doesn’t mention that the broad-based opposition to HB 6 includes consumer advocates, environmentalists, free market groups, health experts, and manufacturers, as a quick review of opponent testimony on the bill will show.
The pro-bailout group also doesn’t mention Securities and Exchange Commission filings that show the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China has committed many millions of dollars to FirstEnergy Corp., the parent company that spawned FES. A March 2018 declaration by Charles Moore, FES’s chief restructuring officer, also included the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China on a list of “interest parties and significant creditors” in FES’s bankruptcy case, under the subheading “Banks, Lenders, UCC Lien.”
Ohioans for Energy Security is led by the spokesperson for another pro-bailout group backed by FirstEnergy Solutions
Carlo Loparo is listed as the president of Ohioans for Energy Security on political issue ad disclosures on file with the Federal Communications Commission. Loparo also serves as the group’s public spokesperson.
Loparo is also the spokesperson for the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance (OCEJA), a coalition “powered by FirstEnergy Solutions” that launched last fall with the help of the utility’s outside lobbyists and public relations consultants, and campaigned in support of HB 6.
Loparo is the president of the Columbus-based Loparo Public Relations, and boasts 25 years of experience in “media relations, strategic message development and crisis communications,” according to his firm’s website.
Amy Natoce, the vice president of Loparo Public Relations, was the political director for Dave Yost’s successful campaign for Ohio Attorney General. Yost will soon decide on whether to approve of revised summary language for the referendum petition, a first step toward getting the referendum on the ballot in 2020. Attorneys representing FES and Generation Now, Inc., a dark money group that spent millions on ads supporting HB 6, have been targeting Yost’s office with letters opposing the effort to put the issue on the ballot.
Ohioans for Energy Security’s first ad uses stock footage, features employees of FirstEnergy Solutions
“Don’t sign your name to a plan that kills Ohio jobs, harms Ohio communities, and endangers our energy independence,” Ohioans for Energy Security’s first ad tells viewers as stoic headshots of several individuals flash on screen.
The ad doesn’t identify those individuals, but at least three of the individuals appear to be recycled from stock footage that had previously been used in a 2017 Ohio ballot initiative ad around prescription drug prices.
The 2017 ad which used the same stock photos, called “Step Forward,” no longer appears online, though Ballotpedia references it in a database of ads from the 2017 prescription drug initiative campaign. A copy was provided to the Energy and Policy Institute.
That 2017 ad was funded by “Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices,” which employed Rex Elsass, a Republican operative and the owner of Strategic Group for Media.
The Ohionans for Energy Security ad also includes several employees of FirstEnergy Solutions who also appeared in earlier ads supporting HB 6, produced by the dark money group Generation Now, Inc. Some also appeared in videos produced by the FES-backed Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance.
A screenshot of a Generation Now Facebook ad featuring Matt Messenger, who the ad did not not disclose is a project manager at FES’s Perry nuclear power plant.
Ohioans for Energy Security first ad features a similar image of Messenger, without disclosing his name or employer
Back in June, the Energy and Policy Institute asked a spokesperson for FES at Sitrick and Company why the utility’s employees were appearing in Generation Now’s ads, and if it was funding the group’s efforts. The spokesperson said he would “be happy to look into this and get back to you,” but then never responded with any further information.
A monthly fee statement filed in FES’s bankruptcy case later revealed that Sitrick & Company staff discussed EPI’s inquiry with “D. Griffing” and the “Dewey Square” team. David Griffing is the vice president of government affairs for FES. The Dewey Square Group is a lobbying firm that has received nearly $800,000 for its work on FES’s bailout campaigns in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which included work on the launch and operations of the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance.
Links to Generation Now’s ad firm and a pro-Householder PAC backed by Murray Energy
The server for the group’s website – www.ohioansforenergysecurity.com – also hosts the websites of Elsass’s Strategy Group Company and Front Porch Strategies.
It also hosts a site – LarryHouseholderFightsforus.com – supporting Ohio’s Republican House Speaker Larry Householder, whose rise to the speakership was backed by FirstEnergy and Generation Now. Householder then led the drive to pass HB 6. The pro-Householder site is paid for by the Michigan-based Hardworking Americans Committee, which spent over $450,000 on ads opposing Householder’s Republican primary opponent Kevin Black in 2018.
The Hardworking Americans also received $50,000 that year from Political Education Patterns, the PAC for the Cleveland-based International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18. IUOE Local 18 doled out $295,000 to Generation Now in 2018 and 2019, according to FEC data. Mark A. Totman, the union’s VP, serves as one of Governor Dewine’s appointees to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Nominating Council, where he represents organized labor.
Updated at 7:30 ET on Aug. 28, 2019 to include information about Ohioans for Energy Security’s use of stock footage in its ad.