SIDNEY – State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, received more than $55,000 in campaign contributions from entities tied to the House Bill 6 bribery scandal while state Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, received almost $10,000.
Prosecutors described the House Bill 6 scandal, a $60 million federal bribery case, as the biggest money laundering scheme in state history. Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and four associates were arrested July 21. They were accused of having received $60 million in exchange for passing a $1 billion nuclear plant bailout bill and thwarting a subsequent repeal effort.
Lawmakers who represent Shelby County have received campaign contributions from groups and individuals tied to the scandal. None of the local lawmakers have been charged with a crime or accused of any wrongdoing by prosecutors.
Campaign finance documents show from April 2014 through June 2020, Huffman received nine donations from FirstEnergy totaling $42,415.58 He also received $13,292.35 on May 27, 2020, from Matt Borges, a lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party chairman who was arrested as part of the bribery scandal.
“This is an extraordinary situation,” Huffman said to the Lima News, “and it’s something we’ve been discussing with the folks in our (Republican) caucus. I think there’s an obligation to donate some of that money we’ve received over the last couple of years to charity. We’re just trying to figure out how to do that.”
Vitale received $7,707.79 from Friends of Larry Householder on Feb. 19, 2018; $2,000 from FirstEnergy PAC FSL on Feb. 7, 2020; and on March 25, 2019, received $250 from Juan Cespedes, a lobbyist who was arrested.
Huffman and Vitale both voted for House Bill 6. Vitale was one of nine cosponsors of the legislation in the House.
State Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield – who voted against House Bill 6 – received $500 from FirstEnergy PAC on Oct. 7, 2019, and on April 29, 2019, received $250 from Neil Clark, a veteran Statehouse lobbyist who was arrested.
“I was disgusted to learn of the criminal allegations against Speaker Larry Householder, and upon learning of them, I immediately called for him to resign,” Manchester wrote in a statement. “Elected officials simply cannot allow their actions to be influenced by campaign contributions, as I now believe Speaker Householder allowed his to be.
“As your state representative, I evaluated House Bill 6 on its merits, opposed it, and voted against it. Normally I would accept the outcome of a legislative vote, win or lose, and move on. But given the circumstances surrounding this bill, I would support its reconsideration by the legislature, and likewise would support giving opponents of the bill another clean opportunity to challenge the bill through the referendum process.
“Even though I voted against the bill in question, I will be happy to donate the $750 in campaign contributions received from First Energy PAC and lobbyist Neil Clark to a local charity.”
In a unanimous vote, the Ohio House voted Thursday to remove Householder as speaker of the house. It is the first time in state history the speaker has been removed by the chamber.
House Bill 6, which was approved by the House and Senate in July 2019, aimed to bail out the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants by imposing surcharges on Ohio electricity customers from 2021 through 2027. The legislation imposed a fee ranging from 85 cents a month on residential customers to $2,400 a month on large industrial plants.
Huffman represents the 12th District, which includes Allen, Champaign, Mercer and Shelby counties along with portions of Auglaize, Darke and Logan counties.
Manchester represents the 84th District, which includes Mercer County and portions of Auglaize, Darke and Shelby counties.
Vitale represents the 85th District, which includes Champaign County and portions of Logan and Shelby counties.
Huffman and Vitale did not respond to the Sidney Daily News’ requests for comments.
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