Ohio ethics legislation planned as corruption trial nears beginning

With the trial for what prosecutors call the largest corruption scandal set to begin, Ohio House Republicans are pushing changes to the state’s ethics laws.

Rep. Derek Merrin, R-Monclova, said the bill he plans to introduce would make lobbyists report all income from each client and stop public officials from serving on corporate boards.

Merrin had been selected the new House speaker in a private vote of Republicans in November but lost the official floor vote earlier this month.

The potential legislation comes as federal prosecutors begin the trial of what they call the largest public corruption scandal in state history that led to the indictment and ouster of former House Speaker Larry Householder. The scandal revolves around House Bill 6, the state’s multi-billion-dollar nuclear bailout bill.

Householder has pleaded not guilty and continues to maintain his innocence.

Merrin’s bill would make both the Ohio Elections Commission and the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee publish disclosures, and it requires nominees to the Ohio Public Utilities Commission to disclose potential conflicts with regulated utilities.

Former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo was added as a defendant in a racketeering lawsuit by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, and a judge ruled to freeze his assets after Yost claimed FirstEnergy admitted to bribing Randazzo, as previously reported by The Center Square.

Randazzo, along with fired FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones and former senior vice president Michael Dowling, are now defendants in Yost's lawsuit. Yost said the lawsuit seeks to recover a $4.3 million bribe FirstEnergy admitted it paid to Randazzo to help construct House Bill 6 while serving as a FirstEnergy regulator.

Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Randazzo to head the PUCO in 2019. Court documents show Randazzo helped draft House Bill 6, the billion-dollar nuclear bailout bill that led to the indictment and ouster of Householder.

Randazzo resigned after FBI agents raided his Columbus home the same day FirstEnergy admitted the payment.

FirstEnergy agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their investigation, admitting it conspired with public officials, others and entities to pay millions of dollars to public officials in exchange for specific official action to help FirstEnergy.

In August, House Democrats introduced legislation that would ban any statewide office holder from holding private employment, performing private work or serving in any private position that they get paid to do, including serving on a corporate board. That bill died at the end of the session in December.

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