CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a complaint Friday with the state Elections Commission over the former Ohio House speaker's use of more than $900,000 in campaign contributions to pay attorneys defending him in a federal racketeering case.
Yost said in the complaint that Rep. Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican, violated campaign finance laws and that a 1996 advisory opinion from the Elections Commission makes clear campaign funds can't be used for an elected official's criminal defense.
“Accordingly, Householder, Friends of Larry Householder, and Mr. Householder's criminal defense attorneys were on notice that expenditures were not appropriate,” the complaint said.
In an interview Friday, Yost said the conversion of campaign funds to pay for an elected official's criminal defense is a first-degree misdemeanor.
“It's important to do this, to send a message to every other politician what the rules are and the fact they need to be observed,” Yost said.
Householder is accused of masterminding a $60 million bribery scheme secretly funded by FirstEnergy Corp. to win a $1 billion legislative bailout for two Ohio nuclear plants. The plants were operated by a wholly owned subsidiary of FirstEnergy when the legislation was approved in July 2019.
Householder and four others was arrested in July of this year and subsequently indicted on racketeering charges. All five men have pleaded not guilty.
The Ohio Elections Commission has issued opinions over the years that the use of campaign funds to pay legal fees for a criminal defense is not appropriate.
Householder's campaign expenditure report, filed on Thursday, shows his campaign committee last month paid the Cleveland law firm Marein & Bradley a total of $660,000, and the Cleveland firm McCarthy Lebit Crystal & Liffman a total of $260,000.
Messages seeking comment were left with the two firms Friday.