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A year ago, the Ohio legislature rammed through a law to save four unprofitable nuclear and coal-fired power plants from retirement, while it rolled back energy efficiency and renewable targets and passed on the $1.3 billion cost to customers. Opponents of the HB6 law, which included an unlikely alliance of environmentalists and the natural gas industry, began to organize a referendum to repeal it, saying it amounted to a corporate bailout for the utility player FirstEnergy.
What ensued was an aggressive and bizarre counter-campaign launched by a set of mysterious actors that didn’t disclose their donors, all singularly focused on preventing the referendum from gathering enough signatures before its deadline. One single-issue group began running ads with false claims that the Chinese government had orchestrated the referendum. Another group, Generation Now, hired the Democratic firm Fieldworks to deploy “petition blockers” who stood near signature gatherers and tried to discourage people from signing the referendum. At one point there was a physical confrontation between a referendum staffer and a petition blocker, and police responded.
By October, it was clear the referendum failed to gather enough signatures, and the debate over the corporate bailout seemed settled — until Tuesday, when federal agents arrested the main architect of the law, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, for a racketeering conspiracy. The FBI charged that Householder, his aide, a former Ohio GOP chair, two lobbyists, and Generation Now of a “conspiracy to participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of an enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.” The 82-page complaint outlines an enterprise that steered $61 million into campaign contributions to ensure Republicans gained control of the House, bribes, and shadowy groups all to pass and protect the controversial bailout.