Campaign contributions pay off for Ohio utilities and coal interests

Nuclear and coal bailout is the latest in a line of favorable policy actions that shield noncompetitive plants from competition. Utility, nuclear and coal interests are big players in Ohio politics, giving about $3 million to Ohio political campaigns in 2018, according to data from the National Institute on Money in Politics. The industry interests have long been active politically. But just as competitive markets began coming into their own around 2010, the pattern of campaign contributions also shifted. Donations to Ohio campaigns from the utility, nuclear and coal industries in 2010 were more than double the amount for 2008.

Taxpayers Lose Out on at Least $11.25 Million, Homeowners and Banks Lose up to $80 Million in Little-known Foreclosure Process That Skips Sheriff’s Sales

This story was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

For years, Elliot Feltner’s father-in-law operated an auto body shop in Cleveland. Later in life, a stroke debilitated the old mechanic, and his care proved a heavy burden for Feltner’s wife, Linda. 

Not long after burying her father, in 2009, Linda Feltner discovered her chronic cough was more than just bronchitis: it was cancer. She died three years later. 

When Elliot Feltner finally sorted through the medical bills and the loss of his only family, he discovered the body shop property he inherited owed considerable back taxes, which he couldn’t afford. So he put the shop up for sale and told the county he’d use the proceeds to pay off the debt. 

But after signing a buyer, the sale fell through because Feltner discovered the property had already been sold to the county land bank, he says without his knowledge. 

“They called me one day and said you don’t own the property. Someone else does.

How do the issues affect Ohio voter choices?

Ahead of the election this week, Eye on Ohio took a quick look at how major issues could sway voters still on the fence. "Even though the election is Tuesday, there are still a lot of undecided voters. We are fairly certain that Democrat Sherrod Brown will win the U.S. Senate race in Ohio, but most of the races (e.g., the governor's race and the down-ballot races) are toss-ups," said Dr. Lauren Copeland, Associate Director of the Community Research Institute at Baldwin Wallace University, who has used survey data in her research since 2009.  "The outcome of the gubernatorial race will hinge on turnout and how late deciders break. If history is any guide, Cordray might be able to ride Brown’s coattails to the finish line because the same party tends to win the subernatorial and the senate races." But Copeland cautioned against accepting polls as the whole picture.

Surprise Supreme Court Reaction to Ohio Controversy Prompts More Campaign Disclosures Nationally Right Before the Election

A look at the 12 groups who haven't disclosed their donors in state elections; The 501(c)(4) with no trace
The identities of many political donors can no longer be hidden behind a nonprofit shield, a D.C. Circuit judge recently ruled, in a case that started in Ohio. The Supreme Court’s decision not to issue an emergency stay on that ruling sent election groups around the country scrambling to comply with new disclosure rules just weeks before Nov. 6. After Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown faced a $6 million attack campaign funded by anonymous donors in 2012, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington complained to the FEC that Crossroads GPS, an major conservative nonprofit, should have to disclose their donors. When the FEC dismissed their complaint, they sued in 2016.

Ohio Attorney General faces legal action after Eye on Ohio story

Columbus— A new complaint before the Ohio Elections Commission alleges that the Ohio Attorney General’s practice of hiring debt subcontractors violates state law. J. Whitfield Larrabee, a left-leaning activist, filed the complaint Thursday, citing a recent article by the Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism as exhibit A. The article noted that under current Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, and his Democratic predecessor Richard Cordray, large campaign contributors were much more likely to get large collections contracts. Both DeWine and Cordray are currently running for governor. Larrabee alleged, in his 27-page brief, that “DeWine’s scheme to economically coerce contractors to make campaign contributions amounts to extortion, fraud and racketeering in violation of Ohio and federal law.”

DeWine’s campaign spokesman, Joshua Eck, said in response: “This is nothing more than political grandstanding by a Massachusetts liberal. This complaint is frivolous and will go nowhere.”

Larrabee practices employment and health law from his suburban Boston office.

Sidebar: The Lobbyist Impact

The Ohio Attorney General's office disputes the notion that campaign contributions influence how it awards debt collection work. But another factor – hiring a lobbyist – has had a big impact.