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News Stories and Events for 2024 April thru June                         

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WHY PRESERVE LOCAL ZONING (IE, TOWNSHIP ZONING AUTHORITY) IN OHIO?

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Concurrently, some state entities, including the Ohio Legislature, composed of Ohio State Representatives and Senators, have been pushing in the other direction to wrest property zoning issues out of the hands of local zoning inspectors. Township trustees rightfully claim that zoning decisions should be handled locally, ie., within the hands of appointed zoning inspectors, appointed members of local zoning commissions, and appointed members of local boards of zoning appeals. The recurring adjective in the last sentence is appointed, which clearly indicates that the publicly elected township trustees, many of whom have been re-elected for decades and some of whom who have been unopposed during multiple local election campaigns, suddenly can take on the attitude that they run little fiefdoms, so how dare joint commissions from the Ohio Legislature dare to imply that some local decisions should be ceded to State authority?

Without making any accusations, this writer urges local leaders to make certain that their own zoning appointments, which are at least multi-annual and in some cases paid lifetime awards with pay, are above fault and do not reflect any attempts to become elected royalty.

2024 will long be remembered as the struggle between State of Ohio, County Government, and Townships/Municipalities. The struggle started way back in late 2023 when the Ohio State Department of Taxation sought increased property-tax collection based on sexennial revaluations, many of us have become familiar with the term “windfall assets, “ that is, unforeseen cash reserves garnered by local entities, for example, public school systems, at the same time that these entities are asking for increases in funding during May and November levy issues.

Months ago, the Ohio Township Association, as readers would expect, became concerned about actions on the part of the Ohio Legislature to consolidate township zoning authority under State control. The removal of local control, while it might streamline the decision process, would lessen the ability of the local voter’s authority during elections.

Geauga County has been blessed with passionate representatives in its Geauga County Township Association. Jonathan Tiber, a Claridon Township Trustee, for the last several years conscientiously represented Geauga County Township Association’s membership and issues. In his May 8 note to both Active and Associate Members, Trustee Tiber cited a letter “petitioning Columbus to preserve and support township zoning authority. We hope that every trustee and fiscal will sign it as well as many other fiscals and trustees from several surrounding counties. . . All [signed resolutions] will be sent in the same envelope with the letter and will also be at the ready to enter as testimony when the time comes.”

When Geauga County Administrator Gerry Morgan recently announced receipt of a request to provide written support local township zoning, he referenced the June 11, 2024, written communication he had provided on behalf of the Geauga County Commissioners. The communication has been addressed to Steve Demetriou, Sarah Fowler, Sandra O’ Brien, and Vernon Sykes and addresses “Proposed [State] Legislation to eliminate local zoning.”



HOUSE VOTES TO HOLD ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND IN CONTEMPT FOR WITHHOLDING BIDEN AUDIO

June 12, 2024
Farnoush Amiri | AP Congressional reporter

The House voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over audio of President Joe Biden’s interview in his classified documents case, Republicans’ latest and strongest rebuke of the Justice Department as partisan conflict over the rule of law animates the 2024 presidential campaign.

The 216-207 vote fell along party lines, with Republicans coalescing behind the contempt effort despite reservations among some of the party’s more centrist members. Only one Republican — Rep. David Joyce of Ohio — voted against it.

Garland said in a statement late Wednesday, “It is deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon. Today’s vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers, the Justice Department’s need to protect its investigations, and the substantial amount of information we have provided to the Committees.”

He added, “I will always stand up for this Department, its employees, and its vital mission to defend our democracy.”

Garland is now the third attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress. Yet it is unlikely that the Justice Department — which Garland oversees — will prosecute him. The White House’s decision to exert executive privilege over the audio recording, shielding it from Congress, would make it exceedingly difficult to make a criminal case against Garland.

Nonetheless, Speaker Mike Johnson defended the decision to push ahead with what is now a mostly symbolic effort.

Look, we did our job on the contempt, and I think it sends an important message,” the Louisiana Republican said following the vote. “We’ll see what happens next, but, I mean, the House has to do its work and I’m pleased with the outcome today.”

The White House and congressional Democrats have slammed Republicans’ motives for pursuing contempt and dismissed their efforts to obtain the audio as purely political. They also pointed out that Rep. Jim Jordan, the GOP chair of the House Judiciary Committee, defied his own congressional subpoena last session.

This contempt resolution will do very little, other than smear the reputation of Merrick Garland, who will remain a good and decent public servant no matter what Republicans say about him today,” New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on Judiciary Committee, said during floor debate.

Garland has defended the Justice Department, saying officials have gone to extraordinary lengths to provide information to the committees about Special Counsel Robert Hur’s classified documents investigation, including a transcript of Biden’s interview with him.

There have been a series of unprecedented and frankly unfounded attacks on the Justice Department,” Garland said in a press conference last month. “This request, this effort to use contempt as a method of obtaining our sensitive law enforcement files is just most recent.”

Republicans were incensed when Hur declined to prosecute Biden over his handling of classified documents and quickly opened an investigation. GOP lawmakers — led by Jordan and Rep. James Comer — sent a subpoena for audio of Hur’s interviews with Biden during the spring. But the Justice Department only turned over some of the records, leaving out audio of the interview with the president.

On the last day to comply with the Republicans’ subpoena for the audio, the White House blocked the release by invoking executive privilege. It said that Republicans in Congress only wanted the recordings “to chop them up” and use them for political purposes.

Executive privilege gives presidents the right to keep information from the courts, Congress and the public to protect the confidentiality of decision-making, though it can be challenged in court.

Administrations of both political parties have long held the position that officials who assert a president’s claim of executive privilege can’t be prosecuted for contempt of Congress, a Justice Department official told Republicans last month.

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte cited a committee’s decision in 2008 to back down from a contempt effort after President George W. Bush asserted executive privilege to keep Congress from getting records involving Vice President Dick Cheney.

Before Garland, the last attorney general held in contempt was Bill Barr in 2019. That was when the Democratically controlled House voted to issue a referral against Barr after he refused to turn over documents related to a special counsel investigation into Trump.

Years before that, then-Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt related to the gun-running operation known as Operation Fast and Furious. In each of those instances, the Justice Department took no action against the attorney general.

The special counsel in Biden’s case, Hur, spent a year investigating the president’s improper retention of classified documents, from his time as a senator and as vice president. The result was a 345-page report that questioned Biden’s age and mental competence but recommended no criminal charges for the 81-year-old. Hur said he found insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute a case in court.

In March, Hur stood by his no-prosecution assessment in testimony before the Judiciary Committee, where he was grilled for more than four hours by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

His defense did not satisfy Republicans, who insist that there is a politically motivated double standard at the Justice Department, which is prosecuting former President Donald Trump over his retention of classified documents at his Florida club after he left the White House.

But there are major differences between the two probes. Biden’s team returned the documents after they were discovered, and the president cooperated with the investigation by voluntarily sitting for an interview and consenting to searches of his homes.

Trump, by contrast, is accused of enlisting the help of aides and lawyers to conceal the documents from the government and of seeking to have potentially incriminating evidence destroyed.



OHIO FARM BUREAU FILES BRIEF WITH US SUPREME COURT TO SUPPORT TAKINGS CASE

June 12, 2024
Susan Shea | Farm and Dairy

A lawsuit of $350 in unclaimed funds in Michigan could impact Ohio farmers and landowners, should it make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Ohio Farm Bureau recently filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court to support the case of O’Connor v. Eubanks. Ohio Farm Bureau has a vested interest in the “takings” case that could eventually allow anyone who feels harmed by a state to sue that state in federal court.

Currently, that is not permitted in Ohio, and this has a “particularly devastating impact on Ohio farmers,” the Ohio Farm Bureau said, in its court filing.

“In Ohio, we are one of only very few states without a process called inverse condemnation, which would allow landowners to take the state through federal court in a streamlined way,” said Leah Curtis, policy counsel lawyer for the Ohio Farm Bureau.

CASE BACKGROUND

The O’Connor case was not a property matter at all, but rather a case of unpaid funds to retired physician Dennis O’Connor, in Hemlock, Michigan, who wanted the state to pay him interest on the simple amount of $350. The court denied his request.

The takings clause of the Fifth Amendment requires just compensation be given to those whose property is taken by the state. It doesn’t matter what type of property is involved — cash, tangible land or public usage of the land — it is still known as a “taking.” If a person feels that he or she has not been compensated adequately, it is grounds for a lawsuit.

O’Connor appealed the initial rejection of his suit through the 6th Circuit Court.

Because the court would still not decide in favor of his claim, he decided to petition the highest court in the land.

MEANING

The Ohio Farm Bureau argued in its brief that the O’Connor decision contradicts a previous Supreme Court ruling in a similar case, Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania. The Ohio Farm Bureau, too, filed a brief in that case which dealt with eminent domain. It was the first time the Ohio Farm Bureau it participated in a U.S. Supreme Court case.

The 5-4 ruling in the Knick case allowed takings claims to be brought against the state in a federal court.

“The 6th Circuit closed the door to the federal courthouse that this court just re-opened in Knick,” argued the Ohio Farm Bureau in its brief in support of O’Connor, noting the financial hardships endured by farmers while their land is occupied and their legal costs mount.

The brief was filed by Curtis and Columbus-based attorney Tom Fusonie, a partner in the firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.

To deal with eminent domain cases, Ohio landowners must file a suit through a process called “writ of mandamus.”

“It is time-consuming and expensive,” Curtis said. “There is not a guarantee or even a high chance of being compensated for attorney’s fees, for example.”

Fusonie said the current Ohio writ of mandamus procedure is “clunky and cumbersome, at best.”

“It is not a streamlined remedy,” he said. “It is always piecemeal and it simply is not adequate.”

Fusonie said that Ohio is behind the times and that, with the Ohio Farm Bureau behind the filing of this brief, it just may elevate the case before the Supreme Court enough so that the court will agree to hear it.

Curtis wants to get the attention of the highest court in the land because it would encourage farmers who feel they have been wronged in any kind of takings to bring a lawsuit.

At this time, she thinks that many farmers and landowners feel it is futile to do so because it would not be worth their time and money. Lawsuits can take many years to be decided. Those bringing suits feel stuck by a system that is both antiquated and balanced against them.

FUTURE

There are over 7,000 cases annually brought before the Supreme Court. They choose to hear somewhere between 100 and 150 of those cases.

Fusonie knows those odds, but he believes that this is something that needs to be fixed. The brief, which he was the lead writer on, was a collaborative effort and it is a rather short 14 pages in length. Many briefs filed with the court can reach up to 50 pages.

He said they weren’t out to reinvent the wheel but rather to highlight the need for a fresh approach to giving landowners, particularly, a remedy that doesn’t discourage them from the outset and which may be inherently unfair.

Curtis said that she expects to discover whether or not the Supreme Court will hear the case sometime this coming fall. If indeed the court accepts the case, it would likely be argued in early 2025, with a decision made in mid-2025.



LAKE CO. SUMMER FESTIVAL SHUT DOWN AFTER ‘UNRULY’ INCIDENTS, 4 ARRESTS

Sunday, June 9, 2024
Madeline Harden | WOIO

An increase in ‘unruly’ incidents at Saturday’s annual Saint Gabriel’s Parish Festival ended in multiple arrests and an early closure, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

While on duty at the festival, Lake County Sheriff’s deputies reportedly became overwhelmed with the ‘unruly crowds’ of juveniles and young adults and requested the aid of Ohio State Highway Patrol, Mentor Police Department, Painesville Police Department, Kirtland Hills Police Department and Lake Metroparks Rangers to assist them.

The entire festival was shut down early to prevent any escalation, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Lake County Sheriff’s office said the ‘volatile atmosphere’ continued into surrounding neighborhoods as the festival crowd dispersed where four arrests were made.

One arrest was for the possession of a firearm, according to a Facebook post from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

One deputy sustained minor injuries while assisting in the situation, according to the post.

All the individuals arrested and identified by Lake County Sheriff’s deputies as related to the incidents were reportedly not parishioners of St. Gabriel’s and not residents of either Concord Township or Lake County.

According to a post by the church, the festival will continue Sunday 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., only without rides.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office said security will be enhanced even further for Sunday.



SOMALI DEFENDANTS DETAINED AFTER BAG OF $120,000 IN CASH SHOWS UP AT JUROR’S HOME DURING COVID FRAUD TRIAL

Thursday June 6, 2024

Debra Heine | The Ohio Star

A federal judge dismissed a juror in a Somali fraud case in Minnesota Monday, after she said someone showed up at her home on Sunday and left a bag of $120,000 in cash with a potential of more to come if the juror agreed to acquit the defendants.

The seven defendants—Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Said Shafii Farah, Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff and Hayat Mohamed Nur—are accused of stealing more than $40 million from a tax-payer funded child nutrition program.

The 23-year-old juror wasn’t home at the time so the cash bribe—contained in a white floral gift bag filled with $100, $50 and $20 bills—was left with her father-in-law, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

The juror promptly called 911 and reported what happened. The Spring Lake Park Police initially took custody of the cash, and then it was confiscated by the FBI.

The defendants are among 70 Somali and East African immigrants facing charges in the pandemic-related fraud conspiracy that cost taxpayers $250 million.

Eighteen others have already pleaded guilty, and authorities have reportedly recovered about $50 million of the misspent taxpayer money.

Prosecutors said that only a small fraction of the funds were directed to charities meant to feed low-income children. The rest was reportedly spent on luxury cars, jewelry, travel and property, according to the Associated Press.

The aid money came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was administered by the state Department of Education. Nonprofits and other partners under the program were supposed to serve meals to kids.

Two of the groups involved, Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition, were small nonprofits before the pandemic, but in 2021 they disbursed around $200 million each. Prosecutors allege they produced invoices for meals that were never served, ran shell companies, laundered money, indulged in passport fraud and accepted kickbacks.

After the attempted bribe, authorities confiscated the cellphones of all seven defendants and took them into custody as investigators tried to determine who attempted to bribe the juror.

The case went to the jury late Monday afternoon, after the juror was dismissed and replaced with an alternate.

A second juror was reportedly also dismissed Tuesday morning after she revealed that she had found out about the bribe.

According to U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel, the juror called her family Monday night to let them know the jury was being sequestered and the family member responded, “Is it because of the bribe?” The juror then reported that conversation to the court, which told her to not talk to any other jurors about what she had heard. She was also replaced with an alternate.

“This is completely beyond the pale,” lead prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thompson said in court. “This is outrageous behavior. This is stuff that happens in mob movies.”

Debra Heine is a reporter for American Greatness.



INCREASING COPPER PRODUCTION FOR GREEN ENERGY IS IMPOSSIBLE, STUDY SAYS

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Kevin Killough | The Ohio Star

Proponents of the transition to so-called green energy argue that the technology to eliminate the use of fossil fuels already exists and it’s just a matter of scaling it up to meet demand. That sounds simple enough.

Putting aside the impact to energy costs and other challenges of this proposed transition, analyses of what is technically and financially possible in developing the resources needed for this plan show that the energy transition in the timescales that proponents demand is not just difficult. It’s impossible.

A new study by the University of Michigan concludes that it is “not possible” to mine enough copper to keep up with current U.S. climate policy aiming to transition the electricity grid and transportation sector to run on renewable energy.

The study looked at 120 years of data from global copper mining companies and compared that to the amount of copper that would be needed for the U.S. to transition to electric vehicles and run the electricity grid on wind and solar.

Between 2018 and 2050, the researchers found, the world will need 115 percent more copper than has been mined in all of human history up to 2018 just to meet current demand. That’s without politicians’ push to a green energy transition. In order to meet the demands of the green energy transition, according to the study, as many as six new large copper mines must be brought online annually over the next several decades.

About 40 percent of that copper production, the researchers estimate, will be needed just for upgrades to the grid to support electric vehicles.

“I’m fully on board with the energy transition. However, it needs to be done in a way that’s achievable,” Adam Simon, U-M professor of earth and environmental studies, said in a statement.

IT ISN’T POSSIBLE

According to David Hammond, a mineral economist with decades of experience as a mining consultant, bringing a single large copper mine online every year isn’t possible. There are currently 20 copper mines operating around the world, and two of those exist in the United States. Altogether, they produce 8 million to 9 million tons of copper annually.

The estimated future demand for copper, according to S&P Global, expects that the globe will need approximately 50 million metric tons of copper annually by 2050.

Hammond told Just the News that mineral economists like him used to make forecasts on all kinds of different metals, but that practice is disappearing.

“We’re scared to. We don’t want to make forecasts because we have no clue. There are so many geopolitical, political, and industrial factors at work that it is now very, very difficult to see what our needs on a specific metal are going forward,” Hammond (pictured above) explained.

As an example of how quickly things can change, he pointed to electric vehicle sales. While electric vehicles were predicted to take over America’s roads just a couple years ago, more than 5,000 dealerships have campaigned against the mandates as their lots filled up with EVs they couldn’t sell. Automakers have lost billions of dollars on their EV lines and scaled back EV transition plans to match the slower pace of consumer interest. Fewer EVs sold and produced means less copper demand.

Should the energy transition proceed as proponents want, however, the demand for copper will grow exponentially. Recycling won’t get us there, Hammond said. The current global copper recycling rate is somewhere between 15 percent and 20 percent, which isn’t a large enough source to meet future demand of the energy transition. There are fundamental issues with metal separation, Hammond explained, which will prevent it from matching production as a supply source.

INSURMOUNTABLE CHALLENGE

In the U.S., the permitting process of building a new mine runs up against extensive opposition and the glacial pace of bureaucracy. For example, the Resolution Copper Mine in Arizona would increase U.S. production from about 1 million metric tons annually to roughly 1.5 million metric tons annually. That would supply 25 percent of the current copper demand in the U.S. The Resolution mine has been in development for 30 years.

But Hammond said that even before a mine gets to the permitting process, the exploration process can take 20 to 50 years. Most of the copper deposits that big producers in the world are tapping today were found back in the 1960s.

“The 1950s and 1960s were the heyday of finding big copper deposits,” Hammond said.

That was the era of the porphyry deposits, he said. These are deposits found on the surface, and they take a lot of work to develop, but a lot of copper can be had from them. Exploration can find veins of copper, Hammond explained, and these can be high grade, but these finds don’t add significantly to global production.

There are some other large deposits, such as one in Mongolia that’s entering production, but that will go to China who possesses 50 percent of the world’s refining capacity for copper.

Even when you find a deposit that’s economically feasible to develop, and you wind through decades of permitting, it can then take three to five years before construction is done and production begins.

“That rate is not going to meet anywhere near demand, with or without the Chinese, no matter how you slice it,” Hammond said.

MORE DIRT

The other approach to expanding production is to expand the existing mines. Hammond explains this has problems, too. As you expand a mine, the grade of copper goes down.

“So the pits have to be made larger and larger and larger. As the grade is going down, well, the cost to produce a pound of copper when you have to dig more dirt, it costs more per pound,” he said.

This means that the cost of everything from EVs to transmission lines goes up, which would present a financial barrier to the transition.

Copper is but one mineral needed to make this transition happen, and the exploitation of these minerals all present similar challenges, difficulties and insurmountable barriers.

The University of Michigan researchers are hoping that policymakers take a look at their study. This research, they said in their statement, might make lawmakers reconsider their green-energy deadlines and scale back their demands to something that is actually possible.



RUSSIAN WARSHIPS WILL BE DEPLOYED TO CARIBBEAN NEXT WEEK, CUBA ANNOUNCES

June 6, 2024
Jack Phillips | Epoch Times

Editors’ note: Anyone remember the “Missile Crisis” of 1962?

 

Cuban officials announced on June 6, 2024, that four Russian warships, including the Gorshkov, will arrive in Havana starting June 12.

‘None of the ships carry nuclear weapons, so their stopover in our country does not represent a threat to the region,’ the communist regime said.

Russian warships will be deployed to the Caribbean Sea next week, the Cuban foreign ministry confirmed on June 6.

The four Russian navy ships do not carry any nuclear weapons and will not present a threat to the region, Cuba’s foreign ministry said in a statement, confirming reports that cited unnamed U.S. officials.

“This visit corresponds to the historical friendly relations between Cuba and the Russian Federation and strictly adheres to the international regulations,” the communist country’s statement said, according to a translation. “None of the ships carry nuclear weapons, so their stopover in our country does not represent a threat to the region.”

The ministry’s statement added that Russian sailors will visit various Cuban government officials and places of “historical and cultural interest” and undertake other “activities.”

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministry have not issued public comments on the forthcoming visit.

The announcement out of Cuba comes one day after an unnamed U.S. official told reporters from several media outlets that Russia had plans to send combat vessels into the Caribbean region, including to its allies Cuba and Venezuela, to conduct naval exercises

The Russian ships are expected to arrive in Havana Harbor between June 12 and June 17, according to the Cuban statement.

It’s not the first time Russia has sent ships to the Caribbean region, but it comes after the Kremlin said on June 6 that Western nations that supply Ukraine with weapons to strike Russian territory will have to reckon with Russia.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said that Western leaders need to “reckon” with Russia and its “position.”

“We won’t compromise our interests,” Mr. Peskov said.

When asked earlier on June 6 by reporters whether the Kremlin would name countries or regions to which Russia might supply arms in this way, he said no.

“It’s a very important statement that is very transparent that the supply of weapons that will be fired at us cannot go without consequences, and those consequences are certain to come,” he said.

His remarks came after Mr. Putin told an international conference of top news editors this week: “We are thinking that if someone thinks it is possible to supply such weapons to a war zone in order to strike at our territory and create problems for us, then why do we not have the right to supply our weapons of the same class to those regions of the world where there will be strikes on sensitive facilities of those countries that are doing this to Russia?

“So the response could be symmetrical. We will think about this.”

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron told Reuters and other news outlets in May that Ukraine had the right to use weapons provided by the UK to hit targets inside Russia.

In the meantime, tensions between the United States and Russia remain elevated. During comments on June 6, President Joe Biden criticized the Russian president, referring to him as “a dictator” who is “struggling to make sure he holds his country together while still keeping this assault going.”

“We’re not talking about giving [Ukraine] weapons to strike Moscow, to strike the Kremlin, to strike ... it’s just across the border, where they’re receiving significant fire from conventional weapons used by the Russians to go into ... Ukraine, to kill the Ukrainians,” President Biden told ABC News on June 6.

Regarding weapons used by Ukraine, the president said that they are “authorized to be used in proximity to the border.”

“We’re not authorizing strikes 200 miles into Russia, we’re not authorizing strikes on Moscow, on the Kremlin,” he said.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and a former president who has emerged as one of the Kremlin’s most outspoken hawks, on June 6 elaborated on what Moscow was considering, saying that Mr. Putin’s words represented “a very significant change” in Russian foreign policy, according to a post he made on Telegram.

“Let the United States and its allies now feel the direct use of Russian weapons by third parties,” he said, according to a translation. “These individuals or regions are deliberately not named, but they could be anyone who considers [the United States] and its comrades their enemies. Regardless of their political beliefs and international recognition.”

The Epoch Times contacted the U.S. Department of Defense for comment on Cuba’s statement about the Russian naval ships but received no reply by press time.

Reuters contributed to this report.



OHIO HB 6 UPDATES: FIRSTENERGY RIDERS APPROVED, WITH CHANGES

Monday, May 27, 2024
Kathiann M. Kowalski | Energy News Network | Ohio Capital Journal

Regulators cut most of FirstEnergy’s energy efficiency proposal when they modified and approved the company’s latest rider plan on May 15. The plan would have been the first time FirstEnergy offered energy efficiency programs to most residential ratepayers after 2019, when lawmakers passed House Bill 6. The nuclear and coal bailout law at the heart of Ohio’s ongoing corruption scandal gutted the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards.

Other new developments include:

Ohio regulators’ approvals also include an extension and increases to one of the riders at issue in cases linked to HB 6.

FirstEnergy must produce its internal investigation about the HB 6 corruption scandal to plaintiffs in shareholder cases, a federal court ruled. Yet the company still won’t give the reports to the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and others in cases before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Recently produced documents revealed more information about money flowing from FirstEnergy to dark money groups that supported Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman.

State criminal cases against two former FirstEnergy executives are moving ahead, while government briefs are expected soon in the federal court appeals for former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges.

EFFICIENCY PROPOSAL LIMITED

Ever since the state’s infamous 2019 energy law gutted utility-run energy efficiency programs, Ohioans have been on their own when it comes to finding ways to conserve energy.

In a significant test of state regulators’ interpretation of that law, FirstEnergy recently proposed collecting money from ratepayers for a portfolio of energy efficiency programs, including rebates, energy audits, and educational campaigns to help residential and some business customers lower their energy use and monthly bills.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio last week mostly rejected the proposal, approving education programs plus financial incentives for low-income customers. Yet the order also concluded that HB 6 does not prohibit utilities from voluntarily offering such programs — a reversal from its position in a 2020 Duke Energy case under former PUCO chair Sam Randazzo.

“[T]he repeal eliminated the mandate that utilities run energy efficiency programs,” the May 15 order says, “leaving intact other important statutory provisions that allow for voluntary programming, if approved by the Commission.”

Energy efficiency programs can save money on customers’ energy bills because it reduces the need for electricity. The need for less electricity also cuts greenhouse gas emissions that drive human-caused climate change. And lower demand reduces strain on the electric grid, which can bolster resilience and reduce capacity market costs.

Nonetheless, the regulators accepted arguments by the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, the Retail Energy Supply Association and others that FirstEnergy’s broad program isn’t needed because competitive markets offer opportunities for energy efficiency. The Environmental Law & Policy Center, Ohio Environmental Council and Citizens Utility Board of Ohio had argued that utility-sponsored programs are cost-effective and allow for hassle-free energy savings.

Supporters hope a bipartisan bill to allow utility-run energy efficiency programs on a broader, voluntary basis will soon be back on track and get a vote by the full Ohio House of Representatives. Last-minute objections by a Koch-linked group delayed a vote last fall.

RIDER RENEWED

The PUCO’s other rider approvals with changes include a charge for called a Delivery Capital Recovery rider. The charge is meant to spur the utility to make capital investments in its infrastructure beyond charges that are already covered in its regular distribution rates. The PUCO’s modifications exclude charges for equipment which isn’t in service yet. Regulators also limited charges to particular categories used for federal regulatory reporting.

The ruling approves higher caps for annual increases. At the same time, the order also states charges for the DCR rider (Delivery Capital Recovery Rider) will be set back to zero once FirstEnergy’s new distribution rates take effect. The commission can consider the rider on “a more holistic basis,” the 163-page order said.

Earlier years’ charges for the DCR rider are at issue in one of the PUCO’s four HB 6-linked cases. The PUCO’s May 15 order refused to hold off on new charges until that case is resolved.

A 2021 audit report in that case found roughly a quarter of the DCR rider charges for earlier years were improper. Those charges include some linked to Cleveland entrepreneur Tony George, whose name came up multiple times in exhibits introduced at last year’s criminal trial of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges.

It’s unclear yet whether any parties to the newer rider case will ask for rehearing or file an eventual appeal.

NEW RATE CASE

FirstEnergy plans to apply for new distribution rates on May 31, said spokesperson Lauren Siburkis. Standard rates for households using 1,000 kilowatts per month could increase nearly $6 for customers served by FirstEnergy’s Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, according to a May 1 filing. Projected increases would be lower for customers in the Ohio Edison and Toledo Edison territories.

The company’s last full rate case was in 2007. The new case results from a PUCO order issued soon after Randazzo’s connections to the HB 6 scandal became public and he resigned from the agency in late 2020. A 2019 order while he was still chair would have let FirstEnergy avoid filing a rate case by any certain date.

Pending legislation calls for utilities to file full rate cases at least once every five years. Yet the House and Senate bills would still let utilities add extra charges between rate cases, while limiting fact-finding in matters before the PUCO. Other provisions in HB 260 cut back on requirements for notices about rate cases and could more generally limit groups’ ability to participate in those proceedings.

WHAT DID THE INVESTIGATION FIND?

FirstEnergy should produce its internal investigation to plaintiffs in shareholder litigation, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley held on May 6. FirstEnergy hadn’t met its burden to show the two reports were protected by either attorney-client privilege or a doctrine to protect attorneys’ work product. The judge also agreed there was a substantial business reason for the reports, which weighs against a finding of privilege.

The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel has since repeated its request for FirstEnergy to produce the internal investigation in pending regulatory cases. The company refused, based on a PUCO ruling from three years ago. A hearing officer refused to allow a mid-case appeal of that ruling to the full PUCO on April 25.

“It is disappointing (but not surprising) that FirstEnergy continues its lawyered-up efforts to block public scrutiny of information that could provide much needed answers to consumers about the HB 6 scandal,” said spokesperson Merrilee Embs at the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.

MORE DARK MONEY

Recently produced documents continue to shed light on FirstEnergy’s spending on dark money groups, consultants and more. Materials produced to Floodlight, the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, the Ohio Capital Journal and the Energy News Network show an additional $2.5 million went from FirstEnergy to dark money groups that supported Gov. Mike DeWine.

DeWine’s office has denied knowing about the donations. The funding was in addition to more than $1 million of spending reported back in 2021.

Other recently produced documents show $300,000 went from FirstEnergy to a dark money group called Liberty Ohio in 2019 and 2020, Cleveland.com reported. Emails and text messages suggest the payments were meant to help Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, who denied knowledge about the funding. As Senate President, Huffman has substantial control over which bills make it to the floor for a full vote.

Additional materials suggest some bills submitted to FirstEnergy in 2018 for a company called Jobob, Inc. were meant to secure payments for Dennis Kucinich, Cleveland.com reported. The time period coincides with when FirstEnergy was making separate payments through dark money groups to entities controlled by Householder.

Kucinich, a former Cleveland mayor and congressional representative, had recently lost a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Earlier this year, he broke with his former party, attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and is now running as an independent congressional candidate. Kucinich has denied any financial relationship with FirstEnergy, including statements in a lawsuit against the Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com.

The invoices purport to be for consulting on blockchain technology. FirstEnergy spokesperson Jennifer Young said she could not comment on past consulting contracts due to ongoing litigation.

CRIMINAL CASE UPDATES

The federal government’s briefs in Householder’s and Borge’s appeals are currently due May 28 and May 22, respectively, unless further extensions are granted.

Householder’s arraignment on state court charges has been postponed until May 23. Technical glitches prevented Householder, who is at a federal prison in eastern Ohio, from participating remotely on May 13 to hear the charges against him and enter a plea.

The state’s other criminal case is also moving ahead against former FirstEnergy executives Chuck Jones and Michael Dowling, despite co-defendant Randazzo’s death last month.

State prosecutors have opposed Jones and Dowling’s motion to find that FirstEnergy was not a victim of their alleged crimes. In addition to its May 2 brief, a May 10 filing provided additional details about their alleged theft from FirstEnergy.

Lawyers from the office of Ohio Attorney General David Yost are working with local prosecutors on the case. Yost had been identified as a possible government witness in the criminal case against Householder and Borges last year.



EXPERTS EYE TAX CHANGES AHEAD OF TRUMP-ERA CUTS’ SUNSET

Friday, May 24, 2024
Ashley Murray | Ohio Capital Journal

WASHINGTON — The race to harness the tax code is in full swing as economists and advocates across the political spectrum view the expiring Trump-era tax law as an opportunity to advance their economic priorities.

Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington said Wednesday that reworking the tax code will be “a reflection of what your values are.”

DelBene, who sits on the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Tax Policy, said her priorities include modernizing the tax code, raising revenue via carbon fees on imported goods, and making permanent an expanded child tax credit akin to the temporary changes in place during the pandemic.

“The top line is starting from what our values and goals are, and then looking at what the policies are that help us get there,” DelBene said at a Politico-sponsored discussion on proposed tax law changes.

The early morning event at Washington’s Union Station brought together tax experts and advocates from Georgetown University Law Center, the Urban Institute, the Heritage Foundation and Groundwork Collaborative.

TAX OVERHAUL

The massive tax overhaul ushered in under the Trump administration permanently cut the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%. The 2017 law, championed by Republicans as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, also put in place several temporary measures for corporations and small businesses. Some are phasing out or already expired, including immediate deductions for certain investments.

Temporary changes for households included marginal tax rate cuts across the board, a doubling of the child tax credit, and a near doubling of the standard deduction — all of which are set to expire Dec. 31, 2025.

A bipartisan bill to temporarily extend the expiring business incentives and expand the child tax credit beyond 2025 sailed through the U.S. House in late January, but has been stalled by U.S. Senate Republicans who oppose some of the child tax credit expansion proposals.

A May 2024 nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report estimated extending the tax cuts would cost roughly $4.6 trillion over 10 years. The bulk of the cost would stem from keeping in place individual tax cuts, according to an analysis of the report by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Critics of the 2017 law point to a recent March analysis from academics and members of the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Federal Reserve that shows that the law’s benefits flowed to the highest earners.

DelBene said revisiting the corporate tax rate, even on the Republican side, is “on the table” and lawmakers will be talking about “where the TCJA wasn’t about investing and making sure that we were being fiscally responsible.”

INCREDIBLY BULLISH’

Lindsay Owens, executive director of the Groundwork Collaborative, said Wednesday she’s “incredibly bullish” on elected officials making “fundamental changes” to the tax code next year.

The progressive think tank sent a letter Wednesday to House and Senate leadership and top tax writers urging them “to use the expiration of these provisions as an opportunity to address long-standing problems with our tax code, not just to tinker around the edges.”

The letter was signed by 100 organizations from across the U.S., ranging from the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers to the National Women’s Law Center and United Church of Christ.

Stephen Moore, who helped write the Trump-era tax law and is now the conservative Heritage Foundation’s senior visiting fellow in economics, said the 2017 law was a “huge success” and that “we’re gonna definitely make those tax cuts permanent.”

Moore is an economic adviser for former President Donald Trump’s reelection effort, but said he was not speaking on behalf of the presidential campaign.

He said he does not agree with Trump on everything, including a promise to enact 10% tariffs on imported goods, reaching as high as 60% on Chinese imports.

“A tariff is just a consumption tax,” he said. “And so you know, I think that it is not a great policy, in my opinion. But if you’re gonna have a tariff, I would rather have a tariff that is uniform than trying to have, like, a protectionist tariff to, you know, protect this industry or that industry.”

When pressed on data that shows funding the Internal Revenue Service increases revenue, Moore said that President Joe Biden’s increase in funding for the agency is “diabolical.”



DOMINION ENERGY OHIO SEEKS A 30% NATURAL GAS SERVICE CHARGE FOR RESIDENTIAL CONSUMERS

Monday, May 27, 2024
Joe Logan | OFU President

Editors’ note: We hope everyone remembers Sam Randazzo and the billion dollar HB6 debacle. Is Dominion looking for a bailout from us tax payers? We are thankful to Joe Logan OFU president for raising the red flag.

Ohio Taxpayers:

I hope this email finds you well - and I hope you spend this holiday weekend with family and friends - and remember America's fallen on Memorial Day.

I've got one thing to ask you to do on Tuesday ... read on.

As you may know, I previously served on the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel’s (OCC) Governing Board, and I recently joined their Low-Income Dialogue Group. You may remember that the Ohio Farmers Union was instrumental in OCC’s creation in 1976. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel is the statewide legal representative for Ohio’s residential consumers in matters related to their investor-owned electric, natural gas, telephone, and water services. You can learn more about OCC and their advocacy at www.occ.ohio.gov.

There is a matter I would like to bring to your attention and encourage your involvement.

Dominion Energy is seeking Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approval for a 30% increase in its natural gas distribution service charges for residential consumers. If approved, the fixed monthly “basic service charge” on your bill will increase from $43.27 to $56.31. And add on fixed monthly charges sought by Dominion could rise to $29.69 per month in 2032.

This proposed increase is excessive and would significantly burden Dominion consumers. The OCC has intervened on behalf of consumers and is currently analyzing Dominion’s proposal.

You have an opportunity to voice your concerns regarding this rate increase in a number of ways:

by providing comments online,

submitting comments by mail, and

providing in person testimony on the proposed rate increase.

All these communications become part of the record that the PUCO must consider when ruling on Dominion’s rate increase.

You can submit online comments in the case at the PUCO: Public Utilities Commission. Or you can mail a letter with comments on Dominion’s proposed rate increase to: Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, 180 E. Broad St., 11th Floor Columbus, OH 43215. All written correspondence regarding the Dominion rate increase should contain Dominion Energy case number: PUCO Case 23-894-GA-AIR.

Dates, times, and locations for providing in person testimony have not been announced by the PUCO yet. Once the public hearing dates are set, I encourage you to participate in person at the local hearing(s) to share your views on Dominion’s rate increase.

I will continue to provide important information about the case as OCC updates me. Here is a link to the OCC’s Consumer Alert for your convenience: https://www.occ.ohio.gov/dominion-rate-case.

If you have any questions or want additional information, please do not hesitate to contact them at 614-466-9567.

Sincerely,
Joe Logan
OFU President



FBI AGENTS WERE PREPARED FOR SECRET SERVICE RESISTANCE AT MAR-A-LAGO

May 21, 2024
Zachary Stieber | The Epoch Times

Documents in the case against former President Donald Trump were unsealed on May 21.

FBI agents executing a search warrant at former President Donald Trump’s home in 2022 prepared for the possibility U.S. Secret Service agents resisted the agents, according to newly unsealed court documents.

An operations plan for the raid of Mar-a-Lago in southern Florida stated that should President Trump arrive at Mar-a-Lago during the period when agents were there, FBI agents would be prepared to “engage with” him and U.S. Secret Service (USSS) agents who protect him.

If the Secret Service agents “provide resistance or interfere with FBI timeline or accesses,” then FBI officials would contact certain individuals—their names and positions were redacted—the documents stated.

The documents also stated that if Mar-a-Lago employees refused to provide a list of occupied guest rooms, FBI agents would “knock on each guest room door to determine occupation status.” Agents would request a map, list of rooms, and a skeleton key for all rooms, and were preparing to bring lock-picking equipment with them.

The documents, produced to President Trump through discovery in the criminal case against him, were placed on the docket on May 21.

President Trump’s lawyers attached the documents as exhibits to a motion asking to suppress evidence seized by agents, arguing the raid was unconstitutional.

The warrant was cleared by a U.S. magistrate judge after agents said there was probable cause to believe sensitive materials were being kept at unauthorized places at the resort. Officials said the raid would likely uncover evidence of obstruction of justice.

Agents arrived at Mar-a-Lago at 8:59 a.m. on Aug. 8, 2022, and initiated the search at 10:33 a.m.. A summary of what transpired stated that FBI leaders coordinated with local Secret Service leaders and that Secret Service agents “facilitated entry onto the premises, provided escort and access to various locations within, and posted USSS personnel in locations where the FBI team conducted searches.”

In addition to 25 FBI employees from the bureau’s Miami office, the group of DOJ personnel included five officials from Washington and two DOJ lawyers.

The group took numerous photographs, including pictures in the bedroom of former First Lady Melania Trump and a “child’s bedroom suite,” according to picture logs that were released on Tuesday.

President Trump’s lawyers said in the motion that the search was “roving and highly inappropriate,” citing how it covered a gym, a kitchen, and the bedrooms where the pictures were taken. They said the warrant was too broad and authorized agents to seize virtually any document from Mar-a-Lago.

Government officials have acknowledged they improperly seized passports and some other materials.

Agents remained on the scene until 6:39 p.m. They flew the seized evidence to Washington the following day.

President Trump after the execution of the warrant was charged with mishandling of national defense information, concealing documents, and making false statements.

DEADLY FORCE AN OPTION

The documents included a statement on the use of deadly force, which quoted government policy in stating that “law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice (DOJ) may use deadly force only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

The FBI also brought a medic and paramedic along on the raid, according to the documents, and listed the nearest trauma center in case anyone was injured during the execution of the warrant.

Agents were equipped with standard issue weapons, ammunition, handcuffs, and badges, and brought medium and large bolt cutters.

There was no basis for the FBI to bring guns into Mar-a-Lago, according to President Trump’s lawyers.

“There were no threats and no risk to agents’ safety arising from their allegations relating to possession of documents at a premises already guarded by the Secret Service,” the lawyers said.

The lawyers also argued that an FBI agent omitted relevant information from the affidavit submitted to the judge as part of the request to authorize the warrant.

The agent, for instance, “failed to disclose that presidents are not required to obtain clearances and that sensitive briefings including classified information had been provided to President Trump at Mar-a-Lago and other residences before and during his presidency,” the lawyers said.

In a DOJ filing in response to the motion, government attorneys countered the arguments.

“Regardless of Trump’s authority during his presidency, he lacked authority to possess classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after it ended and he became a private citizen. Trump’s authority to access or possess classified documents during his presidency was both obvious and immaterial to the probable cause determination regarding the retention of the documents after his presidency,” they wrote in part.

The attorneys also said that while some FBI officials did suggest seeking the consent of former President Trump to search Mar-a-Lago before seeking a warrant, his “prior obfuscation and deception up to that point” meant there was “ample reason to avoid seeking Trump’s consent, which would simply invite more deception.”



FEDERAL AGENCY CARRIES OUT ‘SUBCRITICAL TEST’ AT NEVADA NUCLEAR TEST SITE

Monday, May 20, 2024
Jack Phillips | The Epoch Times

A federal agency confirmed that it carried out a “subcritical experiment” at the U.S. nuclear testing site in Nevada to provide information on the “materials used in nuclear warheads,” prompting reactions from North Korea and Russia.

The test was carried out at the Nevada National Security Site last week and did not trigger a fissile chain reaction, said the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

“This experiment performed as predicted; consistent with the self-imposed moratorium on nuclear explosive testing that the United States has held since 1992, it did not form a self-sustaining, supercritical chain reaction,” the agency said in a news release.

The agency said that it will increase the number of similar tests to gather data on nuclear weapons materials without resorting to using explosions. The last known U.S. nuclear explosion test was carried out in 1992, and Washington has since partook in a self-imposed moratorium on such testing.

“The success of this subcritical experiment was made possible by collaboration across our enterprise, and our investments in science and technology,” Marvin Adams, an administrator for Nuclear Security Administration defense programs, said in the release.

Such “subcritical experiments” are needed to “collect valuable information to support the safety, security, reliability, and effectiveness of America’s nuclear warheads,” according to the release. That data will be used to “improve our modeling and simulation capability,” it added.

Other details about the test were not provided. According to the agency’s website, subcritical tests use chemical high explosives to generate extreme heat and pressures that are applied to special nuclear materials in a laboratory 1,000 feet below the earth, but no self-sustaining chain reaction or criticality occurs. Computers model the data.

Late last year, the NNSA carried out an explosion at the Nevada National Security Site, which was designed to improve how the United States can detect low-yield nuclear blasts in the future.

“These experiments advance our efforts to develop new technology in support of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation goals,” Corey Hinderstein, an agency deputy administrator, said in the release issued at the time. “They will help reduce global nuclear threats by improving the detection of underground nuclear explosive tests.”

The Nevada National Security Site, which is known as the Nevada Test Site, is a location in remote Rye County that was used since the 1950s to test nuclear weapons. More than 1,000 nuclear blasts have been tested at the site over the years, according to research. Since 1992, more than 27 subcritical tests have been carried out.

REACTIONS

On Monday, North Korea claimed that the United States engaged in a “dangerous act” with last week’s test in Nevada.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will not allow a strategic imbalance and security vacuum to be created on the Korean peninsula,” North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement Monday, according to state-run media.

North Korea has conducted at least six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017, while it has frequently test-launched missiles into the Pacific Ocean. The isolated, communist country has warned that it would carry out a seventh one.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that based on the United States’ description of the test, the Kremlin doesn’t believe any nuclear treaties were violated. “And, accordingly, does not constitute a violation of the provisions of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the U.S. moratorium on nuclear tests,” she said.

Russia last year de-ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The United States signed but never ratified the treaty.

Russia and the United States are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers, holding about 88 percent of the world’s total inventory of nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it would carry out tactical nuclear drills near Ukraine, while Moscow has again accused the West and NATO of taking “provocative” measures.

Russian troops “are practicing combat training tasks of obtaining special ammunition for the Iskander operational-tactical missile system, equipping launch vehicles with them and covertly advancing to the designated position area in preparation for missile launches,” the ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

Troops will be involved in “ equipping aviation weapons with special warheads, including the Kinzhal aeroballistic hypersonic missiles, and flying into designated patrol area,” it added.

Reuters contributed to this report.



ANSWERING VIEWER QUESTIONS ABOUT OHIO'S RETIRED TEACHERS' PENSION FUND CHAOS

Friday, May 17, 2024

Morgan Trau | Ohio Capital Journal

We have been getting dozens of requests to break down the chaos inside the of Ohio. So, we have answers to some of the most asked questions.

CAN YOU SIMPLIFY THE SITUATION?

We can try to, with help from Case Western Reserve business law professor Eric Chaffee.

This fight hinges on two major issues: finances and transparency.

There is a fight about how the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) should invest money — through the current system of actively managed funds versus an index fund. Active funds try to outperform the stock market, have more advisors and typically cost more. Index funds perform with the stock market, are seen as more passive, and typically cost less.

“They want to make sure that their retirement is keeping up with what their cost of living is gonna be in the future,” Chaffee said. “But certainly, what’s going on with the attorney general at this point, we’re likely to see some pretty substantial allegations of misconduct.”

More people are being elected to the board that are in favor of an index fund, called the reformers. The reformers are fighting against the members who are nicknamed “status quo.”

But Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit Wednesday to remove two board members, saying they must be removed from their roles for breaching their fiduciary duties. The accused reformers deny all allegations.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?

This is a multi-part answer.

WHY IS THERE UPHEAVAL ON THE BOARD?

STRS is a $90 billion pension fund — and has been involved in controversy for years.

It lost $5.3 billion in 2022 alone. In 2023, it lost $27 million invested in the failed Silicon Valley Bank. In addition to those — the cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, were suspended for more than 150,000 retired Ohio teachers for five years starting in 2017. In 2012, the qualifying retirement number was moved from 30 years to 35 years. Last year, this was changed to 34.

Then, the board approved $10 million in bonuses for their staff.

“I’m hoping that with a change that, you know, maybe we’ll get our COLA eventually,” retired Columbus teacher Sharon Parker said.

Lately, the reformers are growing in size through the election process and getting more access to the board, a good thing, said the dozens of retirees at the board meetings.

“If teachers aren’t happy, if teachers are struggling, then that should be a call to STRS,” Cleveland-area teacher Terry Caskey said. “But it’s crickets. They are not acting in the best interest of teachers.”

WHY IS THERE A LAWSUIT HAPPENING NOW?

Last week, Yost started an investigation after anonymous documents alleged that two board members, Wade Steen and Rudy Fichtenbaum, have been doing the bidding of private investment group QED. According to the suit, the firm asked board members for $65 billion so that they could allegedly restore the COLA.

“We have strong evidence that there were serious discussions about taking two-thirds of the money and putting it in a very, very untested programming,” Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters Wednesday.

Yost filed suit Tuesday morning, accusing them of being a part of an attempt “to hijack” the pensioners’ retirement accounts.

Steen and Fichtenbaum “seek to steer” as much as 70% of current STRS assets, which is $65 billion, to a “shell company” that has “backdoor ties” to the members, Yost argued.

Both men have strongly denied all allegations.

WHY ARE GOV. MIKE DEWINE AND AG YOST GETTING INVOLVED NOW WHEN PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ASKING THEM FOR YEARS TO INVESTIGATE STRS?

This depends on who you ask.

“Now we have a super majority and now we can get all the information we need that they’ve been covering up or not being transparent about,” Caskey said.

DeWine is covering up for his Wall Street friends, she and other reformers added — but she is also concerned that this is a corruption scheme.

Caskey doesn’t trust DeWine at all and believes the whole investigation into STRS board members and their relationship with QED is a “ruse.”

“I also think that the governor is going to pull out every stop to make sure that he has control of the STRS fund because I think that’s a cash cow,” she said.

Originally appointed by John Kasich, Wade Steen is an outspoken reformer. He was reappointed by DeWine, but the governor asked him to resign last year. Steen refused, so DeWine removed him. DeWine cited Steen’s alleged poor attendance at board meetings as reasoning.

Steen filed a motion in Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals demanding to be reinstated — and he was. He returned to his job in April.

Caskey believes that this was the governor’s way of silencing Steen from achieving reform, which she believes would have provided more transparency — and also a way to prevent administrative kickbacks. There is no evidence that we have found of any administrative kickbacks.

Both the governor and attorney general denied that they are only getting involved now to disrupt the reformers’ plans.

DeWine’s spokesperson, Dan Tierney, denied that the timing of this is suspicious.

“We didn’t choose when we received documents, but the announcement of what we were doing with them… occurred after all ballots had been cast, but before the results were made public,” Tierney said. “You can’t say that they were done in reaction to anything because we didn’t know the results. You can’t say they were being done to influence the way people cast their ballots because it was done after the ballots were being cast.”

He also rejected the claim that the governor’s office hadn’t been interested in investigating STRS when educators begged him to for years.

“What they were talking about resulted in an audit being conducted by Auditor of the State Keith Faber,” Tierney said. “Additionally, the Ohio Retirement Study Council conducted a similar audit that resulted in a number of recommendations for governance changes to be made.”

The audits found there were no significant problems with how STRS was being run, but did have suggestions on how to make the system better and more transparent.

In fact, DeWine doesn’t even have an opinion on what the STRS board does — he just cares that it is done ethically.

We asked the AG’s office similar questions.

“This is an ongoing investigation. Like I said yesterday, this lawsuit allows us to obtain the discovery documents necessary to finding answers to the allegations. This is a step in the process to ensure that we continue to fight to protect teachers’ hard earned retirement dollars,” Bethany McCorkle, communications director for Yost, said in an email.

WHO SENT THE “ANONYMOUS” DOCUMENTS?

Tierney said that he believes they were prepared by multiple STRS staff members.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH QED?

Yost accused QED of “colluding” with board members to contract steer.

QED was started by former Deputy Treasurer Seth Metcalf and Jonathan (JD) Tremmel. Metcalf worked under Josh Mandel in multiple capacities, including as general counsel. In 2020, they set their eyes on STRS, according to the main 14-page memo.

The documents claim that they — despite having no clients and no track record — tried to convince STRS members to give them $65 billion so that they could allegedly restore the annual COLA and reduce how much pensioners have to pay into the system.

They couldn’t impress the board members, mainly because of their lack of experience and also the fact that QED was not registered as a broker-dealer or investment adviser. The men also didn’t own the technology to “facilitate the strategy,” the documents say.

Then, an evaluation of QED was done by the board’s outside consultant, Cliffwater. The company highly advised not to follow their project or use them.

Once facing major roadblocks, QED allegedly changed strategies. The documents state that it would “replace board members and staff with those who would support their proposal.” This is allegedly what happened with Fichtenbaum’s campaign. He denies this.

We asked Yost if he was investigating any pay-to-play type behavior. McCorkle said that this is an ongoing investigation to get the documents needed to evaluate the allegations.

“Anytime that you have a financial interest in a business that’s doing or conducting affairs with the pension plan, that’s a problem,” Chaffee said.

ARE WE STILL GOING TO USE QED EVEN THOUGH OTHER PEOPLE CAN DO THE SAME JOB AND HAVEN’T BEEN INVOLVED IN CONTROVERSY?

Steen was asked this Wednesday.

“Now, I’m not even advising QED or anyone — what I’m advising is we need to look at index funding,” Steen responded. “We really need to take a look at that that would dramatically reduce our costs.”

Fichtenbaum declined to answer this question to reporters on Wednesday.

ISN’T SUPPORTING SOMEONE’S CAMPAIGN IN EXCHANGE FOR A CONTRACT ILLEGAL?

Very much so.

Ohio learned that the hard way. In March 2023, a jury found that former House Speaker Larry Householder and former GOP leader Matt Borges, beyond a reasonable doubt, participated in the racketeering scheme that left four men guilty and another dead by suicide. Two other men are going through the court process currently — and the third died in April, with his death also being a suspected suicide.

Householder took a $61 million bribe in exchange for legislation to give utility giant FirstEnergy a $1 billion bailout, named H.B. 6, all at the expense of the taxpayers. After he was caught, faced a jury and found guilty, he was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.

The bribe money came in the form of campaign contributions, dark money donations, that are nearly impossible to track due to Ohio’s lax campaign finance disclosure laws.



OHIO AG YOST IS PROSECUTING OTHERS IN UTILITY SCANDAL, BUT HE WON'T DISCUSS HIS OWN INVOLVEMENT

Friday, May 17, 2024
Marty Schladen | Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost this year brought criminal charges against four figures who were involved in the biggest bribery scandal in state history.

Many thought they were long overdue. That’s especially true of cases filed against men accused of funding the conspiracy, but who still hadn’t been charged by federal prosecutors four years after the last of the alleged wrongdoing took place — and almost a year after two others began lengthy prison sentences.

But Yost’s own name came up several times in the federal trial and his office last week again ignored detailed questions about the matter.

The attorney general played an important role in the defeat of an attempted repeal of the corrupt bailout. And there were claims that he believed that the bailout was a bad law, but kept his mouth shut out of loyalty to one of the conspirators — and to the law’s major beneficiary.

The issue is politically fraught for Yost because the state charges he filed this year have raised new questions about Lt. Gov. Jon Husted’s involvement in the scandal. Yost and Husted are widely expected to face each other in the 2026 race to be Ohio’s Republican nominee for governor.

NEW CHARGES

Former House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison last June for his role in a scheme in which Akron-based FirstEnergy paid more than $60 million to make him speaker in 2018 and to pass and protect a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout the following year. It’s one of the biggest scandals in Ohio history, and so far it has also sent former GOP Chairman Matt Borges to prison for five years, resulted in two more guilty pleas — and seen two defendants die by suicide.

But U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker sidestepped a pretty important question last June when he stood in front of the federal courthouse in Cincinnati and boasted to the press about the convictions and sentences his assistants had just won. He was asked, what about the people who paid the bribes? Would they be charged? If so, when?

All Parker would say was that the investigation was ongoing.

In December, his team indicted Sam Randazzo, Gov. Mike DeWine’s nominee to be Ohio’s top utility regulator. In a deferred prosecution agreement, FirstEnergy said it paid Randazzo a $4.3 million bribe just before he became regulator. From that post, he did a number of lucrative favors for the company related to the bailout and he improperly helped with other matters as well, according to the indictment.

But still uncharged by the feds are former FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones and Vice President Michael Dowling, the executives alleged to have directed truckloads of company money into 501(c)(4) dark money groups that financed the scandal.

In February, a team of state prosecutors led by Yost stepped into the void by securing a grand jury indictment against Jones, Dowling and Randazzo. The charges relate to the bailout scandal, and also to a decade’s worth of shady dealings that allegedly paid Randazzo more than $10 million and ripped off industrial energy users and residential customers alike.

In April, Randazzo died by suicide.

OTHER QUESTIONS

The state indictment also raised new questions about the cozy relationships between the DeWine/Husted administration, FirstEnergy and Randazzo.

Weeks before they were inaugurated, DeWine and Husted had dinner in downtown Columbus with Jones and Dowling — FirstEnergy’s top leadership — and discussed whether Randazzo would be acceptable to regulate the company. Jones and Dowling then drove about a mile to Randazzo’s German Village residence and negotiated the $4.3 million payoff, according to text messages that are being used in multiple court proceedings.

The state indictment alleges that DeWine’s chief of staff, Laurel Dawson, knew about the payoff before the governor appointed Randazzo to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. But Dawson — whose husband was a FirstEnergy lobbyist who allegedly received a $10,000 loan from Randazzo — isn’t talking publicly about what she knew or what she told her boss.

DeWine also continues to stand behind his former governmental affairs director, Dan McCarthy, who lobbied the legislature on DeWine’s behalf to pass the bailout law.

Just before taking that job, McCarthy, too, was a FirstEnergy lobbyist — a job in which he set up a dark-money group that became a conduit for tens of millions in funding for the scandal. In last year’s trial, the prosecution presented evidence that FirstEnergy VP Dowling in 2019 ordered a subordinate to keep the then-DeWine aide’s name off of a $10 million infusion into the corrupt bailout even after being told that it would violate IRS rules to do so.

DeWine and his staff haven’t explained what McCarthy and Dawson knew about the corrupt machinations as the bailout law was in the works — or when DeWine signed it mere hours after its passage.

DeWine, Husted and their administration also haven’t explained what they knew about the long, shady relationship between Randazzo and FirstEnergy described in the state indictment. The governor’s spokesman has tried to suggest that it was common knowledge, but extensive evidence shows that Randazzo and FirstEnergy went to great lengths to conceal it.

DeWine also has said he didn’t know about millions in dark money contributions FirstEnergy made in 2018 to support his gubernatorial bid. But a University of Cincinnati political scientist said it’s simply not believable that a company would make that kind of an expenditure and not make sure the beneficiary knew about it. That seems especially true for a company that subsequently admitted that it paid millions more in outright bribes.

For his part, Husted won’t comment on the $1 million in dark money FirstEnergy spent supporting his 2018 bid for governor, or whether he promoted Randazzo for the regulatory job when he dropped his bid and joined DeWine’s ticket.

The two had history. As House speaker in 2007, Husted appointed Randazzo to the PUCO Nominating Council — a position he held until DeWine nominated him to chair the agency.

QUESTIONS FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

Husted and Yost, the attorney general, are widely regarded as the frontrunners for the 2026 GOP gubernatorial nomination in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to that job since 2006.

There hasn’t been any suggestion that Yost brought charges in the bailout scandal as a way of embarrassing his likely opponent. But at the same time, Yost’s office has avoided questions about his own involvement in the bailout controversy.

According to text messages presented at last year’s federal court trial, Yost was drawn into the fight at a critical time. The bailout passed the Householder-run House at the end of May 2019, but a month later, opposition was growing in the state Senate.

Borges, the former GOP chair who had run some of Yost’s political campaigns, had a June 26, 2019 text conversation with Juan Cespedes, who was also being paid to push the corrupt bailout law. Borges intimated that Yost believed that the law was a bad one.

The AG “‘would be out front (in opposition) if not for (FirstEnergy) support and your involvement,’” Borges quoted Yost as saying.

A spokesperson for Yost declined to comment at the time, citing the fact that he’d been subpoenaed in the case.

Regardless of the AG’s view, so many people agreed that the bailout was a horrible law that an effort to undertake the cumbersome repeal process was getting underway even before it passed. Borges noted to Cespedes that Yost would have to give his approval before a repeal could get on the ballot. The AG would try to help them there, too, Borges said.

If there’s any way the law will allow him to reject the language, he will do it,” Borges texted.

Regardless of why, Yost ended up doing just that.

CRUCIAL LOST TIME

DeWine signed the bailout, House Bill 6, the day the Senate passed it — July 23, 2019. Six days later, repeal advocates had gathered 1,000 signatures from registered voters and submitted a summary of the repeal to Yost for his approval.

Time was of the essence because under Ohio law, repeal advocates had to gather another 265,000 voters’ signatures within 90 days of the law’s passage to get it on the ballot. But first they had to wait for Yost to approve the ballot summary.

The attorney general waited the full 10 days allotted him and then issued a rejection letter that seems at odds with any concept of “summary.”

It was a six-page, 1,535-word document that picked apart the summary in excruciating detail.

“He listed a lot of different things,” said Rachael Belz, CEO of Ohio Citizen Action, which was strongly opposed to the bailout. “It seemed like a lot to overcome. It didn’t seem very neutral.”

The repeal was a referendum — the only one for which Yost has considered summary language since he’s been attorney general. Of the 26 other summaries he’s rejected, the vast majority were for proposed constitutional amendments and the rest were for initiated statutes.

His rejection of the summary for the bailout repeal stands out for its length. It’s more than twice as long as his other rejections are on average, according to information available on the attorney general’s website.

In the event, Yost’s initial rejection did heavy damage to the repeal effort.

Proponents on Aug. 16, 2019 submitted a new summary, which Yost certified on Aug. 29, 2019. But by that time, the repeal team had only 54 days left of the original 90 to gather and submit more than a quarter-million valid signatures. Their time to complete the gargantuan task was cut almost in half, in other words.

What followed was a lying, xenophobic and sometimes-violent campaign to defeat the repeal into which FirstEnergy plowed $36 million in dark money. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the repeal couldn’t get enough signatures and parts of the corrupt bailout law are still on the books.

YYost’s office didn’t respond to questions about his role in the repeal — or Borge’s statements that were presented at the former political boss’s criminal trial. But for Belz of Citizen Action, there’s plenty of blame to spread among Ohio’s statewide leaders.

“I don’t think Yost’s hands are clean,” she said. “I don’t think Husted’s hands are clean. I don’t think DeWine’s hands are clean. I don’t know whose hands are clean. Frankly, that’d be a shorter list.”



HIGH HOPES FOR MARIJUANA TO HIT OHIO STORE SHELVES SOONER THIS SUMMER

Tuesday, May 14, 2024
Morgan Trau | Ohio Capital Journal

Editors’ note: This is the same Jamie Callender who was backing a First Energy bail out long before there was a HB6.

Ohio weed enthusiasts, contrary to stereotype, have been moving more quickly than anticipated in getting recreational marijuana on shelves.

Sales could begin as soon as mid-June, according to policymakers, the Division of Cannabis Control and dispensary owners. We had the exclusive on this story in April, but it finally came to fruition Monday.

The passage of Issue 2 allowed adults 21 years of age and older to smoke, vape and ingest weed. Individual Ohioans are able to grow up to six plants with up to 12 per household. Click here to learn more about what the law entails.

Per Issue 2, the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) wasn’t set to start processing retailer applications until June. The governor and lawmakers initially predicted that weed would not be able to be bought legally until late summer or fall.

But, due to the DCC working quickly, the drug may be available in just one month.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to serve adult-use consumers here in Ohio,” said Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Ohio Cannabis Coalition.

Haren is thrilled that the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) has approved regulations from the Division of Cannabis Control, which means that medical dispensaries could start applying for a recreational license in the next few weeks.

This is great news for Phoebe DePree with Goddess Growers, who sells edibles. She said this opens up her products to a whole new market.

“It’s exciting for us because that adds an element of convenience to consumers,” DePree said. “It’s a real opportunity for us.”

This was spearheaded by state Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, also the chair of JCARR. He fought against changes that senators wanted to make toward our current marijuana policy — such as cutting down on home grow and limiting THC content.

This approval should alleviate the squabbling between Republicans. There are two ways that marijuana would be able to be sold legally. Issue 2 set it so that the administration would make the guidelines, but the faster way would have been through legislative action.

The House and the Senate both proposed ideas, and their leaders have been arguing about whose policy is better for the state, which in turn has kept marijuana off the shelves despite being legalized five months ago.

The Senate passed a proposal in December to allow medical dispensaries to sell recreationally immediately. However, it would limit home grow, reduce THC levels and ban the vast majority of vapes — among dozens of other restrictions and changes to what the voters chose. Gov. Mike DeWine has urged its passage by the House.

The House has refused to touch it, saying the other chamber is going against the “will of the people,” with Callender being the leading voice of that sentiment.

“We’ve gotten past a lot of the fears that many of the senators and the governor’s office had originally — and have gotten to the point where they’re saying ‘Oh, yeah, this is gonna work,'” Callender said.

TIMELINE

The DCC has to file the rule in final form with JCARR, the Legislative Service Commission and the Secretary of State’s office by May 22.

From there, applications will be available before June 7. These will be available for medical dispensaries wanting to expand to everyone, called a dual license, and for groups just wanting to sell recreationally.

The application process will be easy to become a dual facility since medical dispensaries already have a strenuous licensure process, Callender told us. The applications could be approved in a week, he said.

Dual stores can start selling in mid-June, he anticipated. The DCC echoed these sentiments after the hearing.

But policymaking won’t end there — more rules are still needed.

“Packaging, child safety — some of those things I think still need to be dealt with,” the lawmaker said.

Ahead of those guidelines, Haren said that many of his dispensaries will be ready by mid-June.

“They’ve been working on getting processes in place, making whatever changes they need,” Haren said.

Callender plans to celebrate the first legal sale by buying the drug in Northeast Ohio, he said. On whether he would buy edibles or plants, the lawmaker jokingly made an attempt to act like he didn’t know which kind he liked.

“Well, I wouldn’t know because it’s not been legal for recreational use lately,” he said. “So back in college, all we had was what they now call flower.”

This is the best outcome of the marijuana debate, the lawmaker said, because Ohioans get to keep Issue 2 how they voted.

“In these really contentious times politically, it’s kind of nice to see the system actually working for the people — the way that people wanted it to,” he said, smiling. “I’m kind of proud that I played some role in helping make sure the will of the voters is occurring and occurring promptly.”



HHS RULES ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS PROTECTED BY DACA ELIGIBLE FOR GOVT.-SUBSIDIZED OBAMACARE

Tuesday, May 14, 2024
Judicial Watch

Illegal immigrants protected by a controversial Obama amnesty program for adults who came to the U.S. as children are eligible to receive government-subsidized health insurance under a new Biden administration rule that will cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently amended its regulations to extend the publicly funded perk to migrants who have benefited from Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a measure enacted by the former president by executive order after Congress repeatedly rejected legislation offering illegal aliens similar protections. The failed bill was called Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM Act) and those shielded by Obama’s order are often referred to as Dreamers.

So-called Dreamers specifically do not qualify for government-subsidized insurance under Obama’s disastrous healthcare overhaul, officially called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but better known as Obamacare. The 2010 measure requires individuals to be citizens or lawfully present in the United States to enroll in a qualified health plan through the Obamacare exchange. ACA also requires enrollees to be to be lawfully present in the U.S. to be eligible for insurance affordability programs such as cost sharing reductions and advance payments of the premium tax credit. A few years after Obamacare passed, HHS issued regulations that explicitly exclude recipients of the former president’s DACA from being categorized as lawfully present in the country for the purpose of subsidized health insurance under ACA. The agency explained that allowing Dreamers to participate in the government’s insurance affordability programs was not consistent with the relief that the special amnesty initiative afforded, a reference to temporary protection from deportation.

Now HHS has done an about face, issuing a rule that makes DACA recipients eligible to enroll in a qualified health plan through an Obamacare exchange or a state basic health program. “Specifically, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and certain other noncitizens will be included in the definitions of “lawfully present” that are used to determine eligibility to enroll in a QHP through an Exchange, for Advance Payments of the Premium Tax Credit (APTC) and Cost-Sharing Reductions (CSRs), or for a BHP,” the new rule states. It will take effect on November 1 and HHS estimates that it will cost American taxpayers about $305 million annually. The agency explains in the new 145-page rule that after “further review and consideration, it is clear that the DACA policy is intended to provide recipients with a degree of stability and assurance that would allow them to obtain education and lawful employment, including because recipients remain lower priorities for removal.” Therefore, the document says, “extending eligibility to these individuals is consistent with those goals.”

More than half a million illegal immigrants are currently protected under DACA, according to government figures, and over 800,000 under the age of 31 have been shielded from deportation and allowed to obtain work permits and drivers licenses since the measure was enacted. A big chunk of DACA applicants have arrest records, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Homeland Security agency that administers the nation’s lawful immigration system. Nearly 110,000 illegal aliens who requested the special Obama-era amnesty for adults who came to the U.S. as children have criminal histories for offenses that include assault, battery, rape, murder and driving under the influence. Tens of thousands of DACA recipients have multiple arrests and hundreds have more than 10 arrests, according to USCIS.

A few years ago, migrants protected under DACA were among rioters and looters arrested and criminally charged with crimes during a Black Lives Matter “Justice for George Floyd” protest in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Among them was 30-year-old Mexican national Maxima Guerrero, a community organizer with a Phoenix-based grassroots migrant justice organization called Puente Movement. During the riots, Guerrero and her fellow DACA friends occupied a vehicle “loaded with incendiary devices,” according to a high-level Phoenix Police source. Now, thanks to the Biden administration, lawbreakers like Guerrero and her friends can get their health insurance subsidized by Uncle Sam.



S.O.S…SAVE OUR SENIORS

Saturday, May 11, 2024
Brian Massie, A Watchman on the Wall

We are taking the initiative to reach out to the Ohio Senators and Representatives to ensure that seniors, and those living on fixed incomes, are not priced out of their homes with the ever-increasing property taxes. Lake County seniors need immediate relief from the property taxes increases in store for them due to the estimated 30% increases in property valuations in 2024 to be collected in 2025.

If you agree with us, please share this article with your friends, relatives and acquaintances. We would like this to spread throughout Ohio, so that our legislators know that we mean business. Seniors are a powerful voting block, and they are tired of not having a voice in the State legislature.

Now is the time for all good citizens to come to the aid of the seniors.

If interested in adding your name, send email to: stoppropertytaxes@gmail.com
You can make a difference!

LETTER FOLLOWS:

LOBBYISTS FOR CITIZENS

May 8, 2024

To All Ohio Senators and Representatives:

S.0.S...S.0.S...S.0.S

SAVE OUR SENIORS

Property ownership is the foundation of our liberty. However, we regret to say that the American dream of home ownership is merely an illusion. We are all renters from the government. Do not pay your property tax bill and you will quickly see who owns your home.

The current sexennial revaluation has brought to light that the ever-increasing property taxes are pricing seniors and those living on fixed incomes out of their homes that they have worked all their lives to achieve.

Although the Ohio Constitution permits the collection of a maximum of 10 mills of inside millage, the Ohio Revised Code section 5705.02 circumvents the Ohio Constitution with the statement: “The aggregate amount of taxes that may be levied ...shall not exceed ten mills....except for taxes specifically authorized to be levied in excess thereof.”

HB 920 was meant to level the amount of taxes collected, but the introduction of the 20-mill floor means that outside millage is treated like inside millage, thereby violating the Ohio Constitution.

We are deeply concerned that over 50% of Ohio seniors (1,350,000 people) will exceed their Housing Affordability Threshold and will be forced to sell their homes or lose their homes to foreclosures.

One consideration for immediate relief is to stop collecting school property taxes from seniors.

ANY TAX THAT CAUSES A CITIZEN TO BECOME HOMELESS IS IMMORAL!

Very respectfully,

Brian Massie Lou Fidanza Pastor Dan Evans
Pat Evans Carolyn Fidanza Leonard Gilbert
Bob James John Patrick O'Brien Connie Paraskevas
Dean Paraskevas Linda J. O'Brien Keith Davey
Siobhan Justin Terry Foreman Roger Sustar
Diane Jones Thomas Jones
Joe Miller SCC District 21 Citizens Against Property Taxes

All future property tax levies are going to be in jeopardy because of the massive increase in property taxes for Counties, Municipalities and School Districts without a vote of the people. We are seeing a massive money grab without any concern for the taxpayers.

You do not own your home, you are merely renters from the government because of the ever-increasing property taxes.

We are being taxed on unrealized gains.

Any tax that causes a citizen to become homeless is immoral!

Now is the time for all good citizens to Save Our Seniors!



PROPERTY TAX LEVY ISSUE COULD SEE HOUSE VOTE THIS WEEK

Friday, May 10, 2024

J.D. Davidson | The Center Square

The Ohio House could take up a bill this week that would force clear language on ballots for potential property tax increases and stop school districts from using individuals to challenge tax assessments.

House Bill 344 could be on the House agenda when it meets Wednesday after it passed the chamber's Ways and Means Committee on a Republican-majority 10-6 party-line vote.

Sponsors say voters can sometimes be confused when a school district places either a new, replacement or renewal levy on the ballot. The bill would require ballot language to point out what had been paid and what would be paid if the levy passes.

“Seemingly every election, different property tax levies are placed on the ballot,” Reps. Adam Mathews, R-Lebanon, and Thomas Hall, R-Madison Township, told the committee. “‘New levy’ and ‘increase’ are easy to understand, but many voters treat ‘renewal’ and ‘replacement’ as synonyms when they function entirely differently as replacements can increase the asked-for amount and the taxpayer’s final bill. Voters are also frequently unaware that there is a world of difference between the effective tax rates they are paying on an existing levy and the official ‘voted’ amount they would be paying under a new levy.”

The bill also aims what sponsors say is restoring the intent of legislation passed in 2022 that intended to stop school districts from challenging valuations.

According to Mathews and Hall, since the law went into effect in July 2022, districts have used either their treasurer or an attorney at the district’s law firm to file the complaints. Then, the district would file a counter complaint to allow it to join as a third party.

“This straw man strategy has been used in hundreds of cases and creates an environment without clarity for property owners, investors, and auditors,” the two sponsors said.

The bill would not allow an individual to act as an agent of a governmental entity that could benefit from a valuation increase.

Opponents, however, say the legislation would stop taxing entities from placing replacement levies for voter approval and tightens tax complaint properties for large, undervalued properties.

They say the bill would shift tax burdens from large companies to individual taxpayers.

“At a time of historic property tax increases, I am stunned that my Republican colleagues would vote to shift more of the tax burden onto Ohio’s most vulnerable, essentially raising taxes on them, and then somehow mysteriously calling it tax relief,” said Rep. Daniel Troy, D-Willowick. “Our tax system should be fair and uniform, where no one is overburdened because others are underburdened. Ohioans have been crying out for real, meaningful property tax relief and House Bill 344 does absolutely nothing to help them.”

During committee hearings, the bill was opposed by several government taxing agencies but supported by business groups.



WHAT'S NEXT AFTER THE FTC SAID THE BIGGEST GROCERS WERE INFLATING FOOD COSTS?

Friday, May 10, 2024
Marty Schladen | Ohio Capital Journal

The Federal Trade Commission in March released a report saying that the three largest grocers “accelerated and distorted” food costs amid supply disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It also said that prices — and profits — remain high for Kroger, Walmart and Amazon even after the supply kinks have straightened themselves out.

But the country’s trade watchdog didn’t say in its report what might be done about it. The agency this week might have given a hint.

The commission is already suing to block a proposed merger between Cincinnati-based Kroger and Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, arguing that the deal will “eliminate fierce competition … leading to higher prices for groceries and other essential household items for millions of Americans.”

But that’s unrelated to the findings of the “6(b)” report, which was started during the pandemic in November 2021. It found problems with consolidation in the grocery sector even without the Kroger-Albersons merger.

Asked if the FTC planned to do anything about those problems, an agency official speaking on background on Monday said, “The report outlines several areas where further scrutiny by the FTC and policymakers is warranted. The report doesn’t specifically spell out any enforcement actions to be taken as a result of the report, but the report will inform the FTC’s future work as the Commission reviews potentially anticompetitive mergers and conduct as it works to protect consumers.”

The report itself found several broad areas in which it said the three big grocers were using their size to suppress competition.

One had to do with the big boys’ use of “on time, in full,” or OTIF, contracts with their suppliers. Because they’re such huge customers, they’re able to get strict guarantees that they’ll have their orders completely and promptly fulfilled or the supplier has to pay a steep penalty.

The FTC report said that at the beginning of the pandemic, virtually no grocers were insisting that the terms of their OTIF contracts be met — an acknowledgement that supply-chain disruptions made it impossible. But as time wore on, some of the biggest grocers reimposed them with a vengeance, the report said.

“Even as the supply chain crisis brought on by the pandemic continued, some retailers reimposed or even heightened the standards for their OTIF policies later in 2020,” it said. “For example, Walmart tightened its OTIF requirements in September 2020, requiring suppliers to achieve 98 percent OTIF compliance to avoid fines of 3%.

Imposition of the contracts had an anticompetitive effect because, in a time of scarcity, they directed limited supplies of some items to the biggest grocers while their smaller competitors went begging, the report said.

In addition, large grocers are able to use their heft to negotiate constant, relatively low prices from suppliers, a practice known as “everyday low pricing.” Meanwhile, their smaller competitors depend on producer promotions to offer certain items at temporarily low rates.

As the pandemic set in and producers were already struggling to fill orders, they had little incentive to voluntarily reduce prices. That created another mismatch between the biggest grocers and their smaller competitors, the FTC report said.

“Promotions designed to increase sales made little sense when those producers were unable to meet existing demand,” it said. “These changes affected retailers differently depending on their pricing model. Most notably, these trade promotions reflect a significant amount of money within the industry, and so the competitive impact of these differential effects (or of the promotions generally), may warrant further study.”

More broadly, food prices have jumped 25% over four years and they remain high even as supply problems related to covid have eased. Grocers have said their costs remain high, but according to the FTC report, food and beverage retailers saw their revenue rise to 6% over total costs in 2021 — higher than the previous peak of 5.6% in 2015. Then in the first three quarters of 2023, it went even higher — to 7% over costs.

It seems that might be an avenue of further inquiry.

“This profit trend casts doubt on assertions that rising prices at the grocery store are simply moving in lockstep with retailers’ own rising costs,” the report said. “Examining the cause or nature of rising industry profits is beyond the scope of this limited study into pandemic-related supply chain disruptions. However, the question warrants further inquiry by the Commission and policymakers.”



GOV. SIGNALS LOOMING SCANDAL AT TEACHERS' PENSION FUND

May 9, 2024
Marty Schladen | Ohio Capital Journal

After years of complaints about gold-plated salaries, billions in investment fees and lackluster returns, things seem poised to hit the fan at Ohio’s State Teachers Retirement System.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday issued a press release saying that he was alarmed at the news that a consultant for the $90 billion retirement plan, Aon, was severing its contract.

“This is a huge red flag, calling into question how STRS is operating and providing oversight,” the press release said. “The unstated implication is that the governance issues at STRS are so concerning that Aon could not continue its contract in good faith. STRS may now be out of compliance with portions of audit recommendations due to Aon ending the contract.”

The statement also cited unspecified allegations against members of the pension fund’s board, to which the governor appoints some members.

“Additionally, my office has received documents containing some other disturbing allegations regarding the STRS board,” the statement said. “I have directed my staff to forward these documents to a number of relevant offices, including the Ohio Ethics Commission, the Ohio Retirement Study Council, Attorney General Yost, Auditor Faber, Treasurer Sprague, Secretary of State LaRose, and relevant members of the Ohio General Assembly. I encourage them to review the document and take any action that may be appropriate under any jurisdiction they may have.”

Retirees have long complained of rarely getting cost-of-living increases while the retirement system awarded huge bonuses to already well-paid investment managers. For example, the system in 2022 handed out $10 million in bonuses just before announcing that the system’s investments lost $5.3 billion that year.

Last November, the system’s executive director, Bill Neville, was suspended amid employee complaints of inappropriate behavior.

DeWine himself has fueled some of the controversy at the retirement system. Exactly a year ago, just as reformers were about to achieve a majority on the board, DeWine terminated a reform member.

DeWine said the member, Wade Steen, didn’t attend board meetings regularly enough. But Steen countered that the charge was trumped up. The Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals said DeWine’s termination of Steen was unlawful and ordered that Steen be restored to his position.

The turmoil at the teachers’ pension fund isn’t the only controversy facing the DeWine administration.

DeWine and his lieutenant governor, Jon Husted, haven’t explained their and their staffs’ involvement in an epic utility scandal that featured $61 million in bribes and a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout as the payoff. A former house speaker and a former state GOP chairman are serving lengthy federal prison sentences in the scandal, which has also resulted in two suicides.



BIDEN ADMINISTRATION DEFENDS TREATMENT OF VETERANS DESPITE IG REPORT

Sunday, May 5, 2024
Casey Harper | The Center Square


U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough

The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs pledged to protect veterans and address any problems identified by federal watchdogs after an Inspector General report raised concerns about the physicians employed by the VA.

Press Secretary Terrence Hayes responded to an inquiry from The Center Square about recent IG reports. The reports in question said that the healthcare wing of the VA was paying doctors to care for veterans even after those doctors had been disqualified for safety reasons.

“At VA, our mission is to make sure Veterans get the world-class health care they deserve from caring, qualified professionals – and we will never settle for anything less,” Hayes told The Center Square. “Inspector General reviews like this help us make VA health care better, and we are already taking action to address the OIG’s recommendations.”

As The Center Square previously reported, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., raised questions with Secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough  about the treatment of veterans.

His letter pointed out that internal policies at the VA would not prevent health care providers from being paid to treat veterans even after those health care providers had violated federal policies.

Hayes said the agency would respond to Rubio’s letter directly and that the agency is beefing up review processes for health care providers after the IG report’s results.

“We are thoroughly reviewing our criteria and processes to ensure that all ineligible health care providers are identified and excluded from participating in VA’s Community Care Program,” Hayes said. “And, we are establishing an appropriate review process for the Veterans Health Administration to ensure that past removals of health care providers were due to patient safety concerns.”

Rubio called for accountability at the VA and pointed to examples of physicians who should not have been treating veterans.

“While this is an issue that needs to be addressed nationwide, one specific instance the VA OIG has considered in recent months resulted from a case involving a surgeon who had a medical license revoked in Florida but later would participate as a provider in the VCCP,” the letter said. “The OIG found that the surgeon voluntarily relinquished a Florida medical license after being investigated by the Florida Department of Health and notified of ‘a potential termination for cause.’ The OIG stated that Optum was unclear on whether such an instance should be considered as part of the VCCP credentialing process, and OIG stated that the VA’s contracts do not address or define this terminology.”

Hayes also pledged to address the third-party providers who are ineligible to care for veterans.

“Further, we will make certain that appropriate corrective actions are established for providers who have been identified as ineligible – including working with our third-party administrators – to ensure that these ineligible providers are removed from the Community Care Network,” Hayes told The Center Square. “We will not rest until this issue is fully resolved for the Veterans we serve.”



NYPD SAYS PROTESTERS HAD WEAPONS, GAS MASKS AND 'DEATH TO AMERICA!' PAMPHLETS

Sunday, May 5, 2024
By Tom Gantert | The Center Square


NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry posted on X photos of items
 he said the police confiscated from protesters who took over Hamilton
 Hall at Columbia University.

A high-ranking official with the New York Police Department said protesters had weapons including knives and hammers as well as pamphlets with "Death to America!" written on them.

Michael Kemper, a NYPD's chief of transit, posted photos Friday of what police confiscated from the protesters.

“For those romanticizing the protests occurring on college campuses, ‘Death to America!’ is one sentiment that runs counter to what we believe in, what we stand for, and what many have fought for on behalf of this country,” Kemper stated on X. “And if you think the words written on this piece of paper are disturbing … you should hear the vile, disgusting, hateful, & threatening words coming out of the mouths of far too many of these so called ‘peaceful protestors.’”

Kemper posted a video of a pamphlet that stated, “Death to Israeli Real Estate” and “Death to America!” The pamphlet also stated, “DISRUPT/RECLAIM/DESTROY Zionist business interests everywhere!”

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry posted on X photos of items he said the police confiscated from protesters who took over Hamilton Hall at Columbia University. The photo showed gas masks, ear plugs, helmets, goggles, tape, hammers, knives, ropes, and a book on terrorism. The book is by Charles Townshend, Professor of International History at Keele University in England. It was published in 2011 and is 161 pages.

"These are not the tools of students protesting, these are the tools of agitators, of people who were working on something nefarious," Daughtry said on X. "Thankfully, your NYPD was able to prevent whatever they were planning and stop them before they could do it."

Kemper asked who was organizing the protests.

"However, as we have been stating for the past 2 weeks, there is an underlying radical indoctrination of some of these students. Vulnerable and young people being influenced by professional agitators. Who is funding and leading this movement?" Kemper asked on X.

Kemper also posted a letter from The New School requesting the NYPD's assistance in removing protesters from their campus on Friday.

"The actions and continuing escalation of these individuals are a substantial disruption of the educational environment and regular operations of the university," the letter stated.

The New School is a university in New York City. It closed all academic building on Friday and classes were moved to online. The college said classes on campus would resume Saturday.

Fox News reported that 56 protesters were arrested at The New School and New York University.



OHIO AG YOST JOINS FIVE OTHER STATES SUING U.S. DEPT. OF EDUCATION OVER BIDEN TITLE IX RULES

April 30, 2024
Jon Styf and Jack Windsor

Tennessee and West Virginia led a six-state lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education challenging the federal overhaul of Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act. Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia joined the suit.

The lawsuit is one of several filed nationally on the topic after Biden’s administration rewrote the Title IX statute to expand the definition of “sex” to include “gender identity.”

"This regulation turns the statute upside down. Title IX was meant to protect equal opportunity for women," Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. "This new rule says that there are no opportunities that are exclusively for women, and men who identify as women can use the programs and facilities designed for women."

“The U.S. Department of Education has no authority to let boys into girls’ locker rooms,” Tennessee Attorney General Skrmetti said in a statement. “In the decades since its adoption, Title IX has been universally understood to protect the privacy and safety of women in private spaces like locker rooms and bathrooms.

“Under this radical and illegal attempt to rewrite the statute, if a man enters a woman’s locker room and a woman complains that makes her uncomfortable, the woman will be subject to investigation and penalties for violating the man’s civil rights.”

Skrmetti’s office said the DOE is essentially abolishing sex-based distinctions in educational activities and programs and forcing states to accept radical gender ideology in schools.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

"If this unauthorized rewrite of Title IX by the executive branch is allowed to stand, the suit says, Ohio schools will have to allow males from preschool through college who self-identify as female to use girls’/women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, and student housing, play on girls’/women’s sports teams, and access other female-only activities and spaces, or risk losing billions in federal funding," a press release from Yost's office stated.

The statement continued, "the sweeping Title IX mandate would disrupt schools’ long-lasting practices of protecting student privacy and safety, unfairly undermine women’s academic and athletic accomplishments and their associated societal advancement, and punish states for following their own laws."

Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina joined in a similar lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Alabama.



MARK CUBAN HAS A SIMPLE QUESTION FOR CVS'S DRUG MIDDLEMAN: WHY DON'T YOU PUBLISH YOUR PRICES?

April 26, 2024
Marty Schladen | Ohio Capital Journal

Businessman and TV personality Mark Cuban has a seemingly straightforward question for the huge drug middleman owned by CVS: If you’re as transparent about drug pricing as you claim, why don’t you publish prices on your website?

The company didn’t answer directly.

Cuban, founder of Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drugs, last week raised that question to the Capital Journal in response to a paid column that appeared April 3 in Forbes magazine. It was written by David Joyner, president of CVS Caremark, CVS’s pharmacy benefit manager, or PBM.

The company is the largest drug middleman in the United States. It represents insurers in drug transactions by creating lists of drugs that are covered, negotiating deals with manufacturers, reconciling transactions at the pharmacy counter and reimbursing pharmacists.

The three biggest PBMs — CVS Caremark, OptumRx, and Express Scripts — are part of giant corporations that each own a top-10 insurer. Together they represent 80% of the patients whose prescriptions are covered by insurance. And they say they use that size to force the big pharmaceutical companies to reduce prices.

“Our size and scale allow us to go toe-to-toe with drug companies, driving competition and negotiating discounts that make the difference between someone affording their medication or going without,” Joyner wrote in his Forbes column.

However, those companies have for years been dogged by accusations that they’re not transparent and that they’re pocketing huge amounts from their position as middleman in lucrative pharmaceutical transactions.

For example, a special investigation by the Ohio Department of Medicaid showed that CVS Caremark and OptumRx in 2017 took nearly a quarter-billion dollars in previously unknown fees from the health program for the poor. Six years later, the companies are still in court, fighting to keep secret information that it redacted in the report — even though the media reported it in 2019.

Questions about the big PBMs reached the point that the Federal Trade Commission in 2022 mounted a major investigation of the companies’ practices. It’s ongoing.

Amid stories about seemingly arbitrary pricing in which the big PBMs were sometimes paying themselves 100 times as much for drugs as they could be gotten elsewhere, Cuban and others started opening businesses that take drug purchases outside the insurance/PBM system. Discarding the PBM model of using a dizzying array of “maximum allowable cost” lists, the pharmacies publish their cost for the drugs and charge that plus a set markup plus a set dispensing fee.

For example, pharmacist Nate Hux opened Freedom Pharmacy in Pickerington. Illustrating how arbitrary pricing in the insurance/PBM system can be, Hux in 2021 reported selling a patient Celecoxib — a generic version of the anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex — for $23.05. When the patient used her insurance, her copayment alone had been $141.

The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company site reports other such disparities.

In his column, Joyner, the CVS Caremark president, points out that such operations deal chiefly in generics — the least expensive class of drugs that are no longer patented and thus available from multiple manufacturers. He said the idea behind such cost-plus businesses is old and outmoded.

“The reality is, the Cost Plus offering is neither novel nor unique — it is a generic sourcing business that is 10 years too late,” Joyner wrote.

Cuban appeared to tweak Joyner for claiming the Cost Plus idea is irrelevant, while simultaneously going to the trouble to write a column in a national magazine criticizing it.

“My only response is that we are honored that he would take the time to talk about us and we hope he continues to do so,” Cuban, an owner of the Dallas Mavericks, said in an email.

In his column, Joyner said Cuban’s operation couldn’t address “the real issue: This country has a brand drug pricing problem.”

Those are the more-expensive drugs that are still under patent. The big PBMs negotiate huge, non-transparent rebates and discounts from their manufacturers in exchange for covering them on behalf of the millions of patients they represent. Joyner blamed drugmakers for raising list prices of drugs, but research has shown that list prices go up in conjunction with rebates and discounts received by PBMs.

A spokesman for CVS Caremark didn’t respond directly to a question asking whether, through its negotiations, the company impacts the prices of branded drugs.

In his column, Joyner also said CVS Caremark was bringing sunlight to drug pricing. He wrote, “… we are creating a more transparent environment for drug pricing in this country, and it’s not just for 2,500 drugs; it’s for every drug from every manufacturer for every condition and every patient.”

That prompted Cuban to ask whether the company would publish drug prices on its website as his company had.

“All anyone has to do is go to costplusdrugs.com and look at our pricing and then go to their websites and do the same,” Cuban said. “Then they can make their own decisions.”

Asked whether CVS Caremark would publish prices, its spokesman, Phil Blando again didn’t respond directly.

“The point David (Joyner) is making is one we’ve talked to you and many others about: PBMs are the only enduring protection from high prescription drug prices for seniors, the disabled, and working families,” Blando said in an email. “Prior to the advent of PBMs, consumers were at the mercy of drug companies’ high list prices. Many patients could not afford their medicines and otherwise manageable conditions took a heavy toll. We remain confident in our model and our ability to deliver sustainable savings to our clients and their members without sacrificing access or quality.”

For his part, Hux on Monday said his Pickerington business has grown by the month. He said word-of-mouth, media coverage and Cuban’s venture have all raised awareness of the cost-plus pricing model.

He said that it not only allows him to offer many medicines much more cheaply, the model also creates fewer headaches than his insurance-using pharmacy does.

“We don’t have to fool around with chasing claims, all the extra administrative work,” Hux said. “The documentation, there’s a lot of paperwork to deal with. And the fees they charge the pharmacies. And the audits. It’s just very inefficient. I hate it.”



OHIO DEMOCRAT WANTS TO ENSURE UTILITIES' POLITICAL SPENDING DOESN'T WIND UP ON CONSUMERS' BILLS

Friday, April 26, 2024
Nick Evans | Ohio Capital Journal

In the nearly four years since former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder was indicted, a cascade of stories have come to light illustrating the influence public utilities have in state politics. In just the last week, Ohioans have learned FirstEnergy funneled money to dark money groups backing Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Senate President Matt Huffman.

State Rep. Lauren McNally, D-Youngstown, is trying to put up guardrails. She’s sponsoring legislation prohibiting utilities from recouping the money they spend on politics through rates or riders. If a utility gets caught circumventing those restrictions they’d have to refund customers with interest and pay a fine. Those fines would be placed in a fund meant to help cover past due utility expenses.

The bill, known as HB 444, also requires utilities to publicize their political spending on an annual basis through the Public Utility Commission of Ohio website.

The measure would give legislative backing to what is already standard practice. The PUCO relies on federal accounting standards that prohibit calculating political spending when setting rates, but McNally argued that hasn’t been good enough.

“So if this system,” she said, “as it is today, just this quote-unquote long standing practice, worked as an efficient deterrent for utilities’ rate recovery of political expenditures, then FirstEnergy really could not have amassed $61 million in revenues to bribe public officials.”

First hearing

In committee, McNally described a familiar parental complaint. She’s a mother of four and explained, “my kids seem to never be able to keep the front door closed.”

“They’re constantly letting the air conditioning out, the heat out. They never shut a light off,” she said. “So I’m always following them around closing doors, turning lights off, sounding like my parents saying money doesn’t grow on trees.”

For many families, McNally explained, the utility costs that come with those open doors and lights left on, can really add up. She described regularly chatting with other parents about utility costs and “how hot we should let it get before turning our air conditioner on.”

Ohio’s electricity rates fall near the middle of the pack among U.S. states, but McNally noted they’re rising quickly. In 2022, the 14.3% increase in electricity bills was more than double the rate of annual inflation.

McNally allowed paying fees to improve a service or maintain infrastructure might be reasonable, but being forced to cover a utility’s political efforts, even indirectly, is not. She compared it to grocery stores asking customers to round up their bill to support a local food pantry. The latter is fine she argued because it’s voluntary and transparent.

“But what if they asked me to give a few dollars to support their corporate, political agenda?” she asked. “What if they wouldn’t tell us what that agenda is, how it improves the product, or makes our costs go down? What if they didn’t ask at all, and paying for it was mandatory?”

To bar utilities from taking those steps, she said, HB 444 combines rules, disclosure and enforcement. In addition to codifying the prohibition on including political spending in rate setting calculations, the bill explicitly defines what spending falls under the umbrella.

Contributions to political candidates and political parties obviously count. Lobbying expenses, too. But the measure also includes industry association dues, public relations expenditures or donations to the non-profit, dark money organizations politicians often rely on to obscure fundraising.

To help Ohioans follow what political spending utilities are engaging in, the bill requires them to report the previous year’s expenditures on Jan. 1. That report must include the recipient, the amount and the purpose of the expenditure. The PUCO would then combine those disclosures into a single report to be submitted to the general assembly by Feb. 1.

If a utility circumvented the law requirements, the punishment would be costly. McNally explained the utility would be on the hook for 20 times what it charged customers. Part of the money would reimburse rate payers with interest, and the excess would go to a fund meant to help people who are behind on their bills.

“It sends a clear message on the cost of corruption here in Ohio and who will pay for it,” McNally said. “The world is watching, and the time to send this message is now.”



OHIO U.S. SEN. SHERROD BROWN'S FEND OFF FENTANYL ACT SIGNED INTO LAW

Thursday, April 25, 2024
Nick Evans | Ohio Capital Journal

Aid for Ukraine may be the most consequential part of the foreign aid measures Congress recently approved, and President Joe Biden signed into law, but U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is highlighting a different policy change wrapped into the effort. The Ohio Democrat’s FEND Off Fentanyl Act was part of a wide-ranging bill including provisions to use frozen Russian assets and potentially force the sale of TikTok.

“Our legislation would impose new, more powerful sanctions targeting the entire fentanyl supply chain,” Brown said in a recent conference call, “from the chemical suppliers in China to the Mexican cartels that traffic the drugs into our country.”

Passage of Brown’s measure comes nearly a year to the day after he and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, introduced the idea. The proposal declares fentanyl trafficking a national emergency and places new sanctions on the leaders of trafficking organizations. The measure also gives the U.S. Treasury Department more latitude to combat money laundering tied to trafficking and gives officials the authority to make use of forfeited property for law enforcement efforts.

“Law enforcement in Ohio and around the country made it clear that we needed more tools to stop fentanyl at its source,” Brown said in a statement shortly after President Biden signed the bill into law.

“Because of our work together, those tools are now law and can begin to be put to use going after the cartels,” he added. “Today is an important step in our fight to stop the illicit fentanyl that is flooding Ohio communities.”

THE OPIOID CRISIS

In 2021, the most recent national data, more than 80,400 Americans died of an opioid overdose. Those figures, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, portray a sharp increase in overdose deaths — the number of fatalities effectively doubled in just five years.

In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state-by-state comparison of mortality from any drug, Ohio lands near the top. In terms of raw number of overdose deaths, the state had the fifth most in 2021, and in terms of rate, it landed at seventh.

Fentanyl has been particularly deadly. According to preliminary state figures from Ohio, 81% of unintentional overdose deaths in 2022 involved the drug. Ohio’s overdose deaths overall declined by about 5% compared to the peak in 2021. But even then, 2022 saw more than 4,900 Ohioans die from an overdose. More than 3,900 of those were related to fentanyl.

The organization Harm Reduction Ohio tracks data from the state’s mortality database, and while it notes official reporting is still months away, 2023 is on track to see another modest decline.

Still, addressing opioid abuse is, and has been, a priority for politicians from both parties at the local, state and federal level. Brown and his former Senate colleague Republican Rob Portman teamed up on several measures during their time together.

Fighting the opioid crisis also remains a perennial feature in campaign ads and political debates. Brown’s campaign team, for instance, was quick to seize on Republican Bernie Moreno’s statement that he would’ve supported aid to Israel but not the broader package of legislation.

Although Moreno, who’s challenging Brown for his Senate seat this November, didn’t weigh in on the FEND Off Fentanyl Act specifically, Ohio Democrats painted Moreno’s dismissal as part of a broader rejection of bipartisanship.

In line with former president Donald Trump, Moreno vehemently opposed an earlier Senate bill pairing Ukraine funding with several conservative immigration policy changes. In an interview with the Ohio Press Network, Moreno insisted, “I did read all 357 pages,” and it “highlights every single thing that’s wrong with Washington D.C.”

“It’s grotesque, it’s disgusting, and I would do everything in my power to make certain that something like that bill never got passed,” Moreno said.

Brown’s FEND Off Fentanyl Act was included on page 225.

After this story was published, Moreno spokeswoman Reagan McCarthy offered additional context.

“Bernie is happy to see any action to stop the flow of fentanyl into our country and would have supported this as a standalone bill,” McCarthy said before criticizing Brown’s “long record of supporting open border policies that have exacerbated the fentanyl crisis.”

In particular she cited a 2022 vote in which Brown opposed funding for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to “better detect fentanyl coming across the border.” It’s an apparent reference to an amendment offered by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, during the Senate’s vote-a-rama on the Inflation Reduction Act. That proposal would’ve earmarked $500 million to install vehicle scanners at the southern border, among other provisions dealing with oil and gas leases and building energy codes.

However, here again the Senate bill Moreno called ‘grotesque’ carried similar provisions — setting aside $424.5 million for the “acquisition and deployment of non-intrusive inspection technology.” Notably, the acting director of Customs and Border Protection as well as the head of the Border Patrol union both endorsed the measure at the time.

THE FEND OFF FENTANYL ACT

Brown’s package of sanctions and anti-money laundering provisions has the backing of several law enforcement organizations including the Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Officers, the National Sheriff’s Association.

Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn joined Sen. Brown’s call with reporters earlier this week and praised the measure for targeting the flow of drugs into the country.

“Fentanyl is ravaging our communities and killing our citizens, and we must stop the flow at the source immediately,” he said.

He referenced a recent Congressional report that shows the Chinese government is directly subsidizing the production of fentanyl precursors so long as they’re sold outside China. Once they cross the ocean, those chemicals are fueling massive trafficking enterprises.

“They’re making billions — with the B — a year, and we have to stop that,” Wasylyshyn said. “As long as they’re making that kind of money, they’re going to do whatever it takes to get through this.”

Brown described hearing the same concerns from law enforcement over and over again.

“In Youngstown or Toledo, Cincinnati or Cleveland, Zanesville, Columbus, Bowling Green,” Brown said, “law enforcement tells us one of the best ways we can support them in this fight is by doing more to keep it from reaching Ohio in the first place.”



NEARSIGHTEDNESS IS AT EPIDEMIC LEVELS – AND THE PROBLEM BEGINS IN CHILDHOOD

Thursday, April 25, 2024
Andrew Herbert | The Conversation

Myopia, or the need for corrected vision to focus or see objects at a distance, has become a lot more common in recent decades. Some even consider myopia, also known as nearsightedness, an epidemic.

Optometry researchers estimate that about half of the global population will need corrective lenses to offset myopia by 2050 if current rates continue – up from 23% in 2000 and less than 10% in some countries.

The associated health care costs are huge. In the United States alone, spending on corrective lenses, eye tests and related expenses may be as high as US$7.2 billion a year.

What explains the rapid growth in myopia?

I’m a vision scientist who has studied visual perception and perceptual defects. To answer that question, first let’s examine what causes myopia – and what reduces it.

A closer look at myopia.

HOW MYOPIA DEVELOPS

While having two myopic parents does mean you’re more likely to be nearsighted, there’s no single myopia gene. That means the causes of myopia are more behavioral than genetic.

Optometrists have learned a great deal about the progression of myopia by studying visual development in infant chickens. They do so by putting little helmets on baby chickens. Lenses on the face of the helmet cover the chicks’ eyes and are adjusted to affect how much they see.

Just like in humans, if visual input is distorted, a chick’s eyes grow too large, resulting in myopia. And it’s progressive. Blur leads to eye growth, which causes more blur, which makes the eye grow even larger, and so on.

Two recent studies featuring extensive surveys of children and their parents provide strong support for the idea that an important driver of the uptick in myopia is that people are spending more time focusing on objects immediately in front of our eyes, whether a screen, a book or a drawing pad. The more time we spend focusing on something within arm’s length of our faces, dubbed “near work,” the greater the odds of having myopia.

So as much as people might blame new technologies like smartphones and too much “screen time” for hurting our eyes, the truth is even activities as valuable as reading a good book can affect your eyesight.

OUTSIDE LIGHT KEEPS MYOPIA AT BAY

Other research has shown that this unnatural eye growth can be interrupted by sunlight.

A 2022 study, for example, found that myopia rates were more than four times greater for children who didn’t spend much time outdoors – say, once or twice a week – compared with those who were outside daily. At the same time, kids who spent more than three hours a day while not at school reading or looking at a screen close-up were four times more likely to have myopia than those who spent an hour or less doing so.

In another paper, from 2012, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of seven studies that compared duration of time spent outdoors with myopia incidence. They also found that more time spent outdoors was associated with lower myopia incidence and progression. The odds of developing myopia dropped by 2% for each hour spent outside per week.

Other researchers have reported similar effects and argued for much more time outdoors and changes in early-age schooling to reduce myopia prevalence.

‘Why so many people need glasses now.’

WHAT’S DRIVING THE EPIDEMIC

That still doesn’t explain why it’s on the rise so rapidly.

Globally, a big part of this is due to the rapid development and industrialization of countries in East Asia over the last 50 years. Around that time, young people began spending more time in classrooms reading and focusing on other objects very close to their eyes and less time outdoors.

This is also what researchers observed in the North American Arctic after World War II, when schooling was mandated for Indigenous people. Myopia rates for Inuit went from the single digits before the 1950s to upwards of 70% by the 1970s as all children began attending schools for the first time.

Countries in Western Europe, North America and Australia have shown increased rates of myopia in recent years but nothing approaching what has been observed recently in China, Japan, Singapore and a few other East Asian countries. The two main factors identified as leading to increased myopia are increased reading and other activities that require focusing on an object close to one’s eyes and a reduction in time spent outdoors.

The surge in myopia cases will likely have its worst effects 40 or 50 years from now because it takes time for the young people being diagnosed with nearsightedness now to experience the most severe vision problems.

TREATING MYOPIA

Fortunately, just a few minutes a day with glasses or contact lenses that correct for blur stops the progression of myopia, which is why early vision testing and vision correction are important to limit the development of myopia. Eye checks for children are mandatory in some countries, such as the U.K. and now China, as well as most U.S. states.

People with with high myopia, however, have increased risk of blindness and other severe eye problems, such as retinal detachment, in which the retina pulls away from the the back of the eye. The chances of myopia-related macular degeneration increase by 40% for each diopter of myopia. A diopter is a unit of measurement used in eye prescriptions.

But there appear to be two sure-fire ways to offset or delay these effects: Spend less time focusing on objects close to your face, like books and smartphones, and spend more time outside in the bright, natural light. Given the first one is difficult advice to take in our modern age, the next best thing is taking frequent breaks – or perhaps spend more time reading and scrolling outside in the sun.

Andrew Herbert is Professor of Psychology, Visual Perception, Rochester Institute of Technology



TRUTH SOCIAL CEO CALLS ON HOUSE TO INVESTIGATE POTENTIAL 'UNLAWFUL MANIPULATION OF DJT STOCK'

Thursday, April 25, 2024
By Nicholas Ballasy

"Such an inquiry is needed to protect shareholders, including TMTG’s retail investors," Nunes says

Devin Nunes, CEO of the Trump Media & Technology Group, is asking House committee leaders to investigate the potential "unlawful manipulation of DJT stock."

In a letter to the committees, Nunes pointed out that DJT [the initials for Donald J. Trump] has appeared every day since April 2 on Nasdaq’s "Reg SHO threshold list," which he said is "indicative of unlawful trading activity."

The concern follows Trump Media & Technology Group, whose flagship product is social networking site Truth Social, began being traded late last month on the Nasdaq stock market.

"This is particularly troubling given that 'naked' short selling often entails sophisticated market participants profiting at the expense of retail investors," Nunes wrote in the letter released on Tuesday. "Reports indicate that, as of April 3, 2024, DJT was the single most expensive stock to short in U.S. markets by a significant margin, meaning that brokers have a significant financial incentive to lend non-existent shares."

The California Republican is also a former chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Nunes also wrote that "data made available to us indicate that just four market participants have been responsible for over 60% of the extraordinary volume of DJT shares traded: Citadel Securities, VIRTU Americas, G1 Execution Services, and Jane Street Capital."

The former House Intelligence Committee chairman called on the committees to "open an investigation of anomalous trading of DJT to determine its extent and purpose, and whether any laws including RICO statutes and tax evasion laws were violated, so that the perpetrators of any illegal activity can be held to account."

He argued that "such an inquiry is needed to protect shareholders, including TMTG’s retail investors" and might also "shed light on the need for policy changes such as closing the Reg SHO loophole for market makers, requiring brokers to better document their efforts to locate and borrow stock, and stiffening penalties for illegal naked short sellers."



25 ATTORNEYS GENERAL SUE OVER EPA EMISSIONS RULE, EV MANDATE

Tuesday, April 23, 2024
Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor

Led by Kentucky, the 25 states petitioned the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block an Environmental Protection Agency rule, “Multi-Pollutant Emissions Standards for Model Years 2027 and Later Light-Duty and Medium- Duty Vehicles,” from going into effect.

They argue the final rule “exceeds its statutory authority, is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and not in accordance with the law.” The lawsuit asks the court to declare it unlawful.

The EPA proposed the rule through the Clean Air Act to require car manufacturers to create “zero-emission vehicles and plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles in compliance with calculations, medium-duty vehicle incentive multipliers, and vehicle certification and compliance.”

The rule also implements regulations related to controlling “refueling emissions from incomplete medium-duty vehicles, and battery durability and warranty requirements for light-duty and medium-duty electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles” as well as aftermarket fuel conversions, importing vehicles and engines, evaporative emission test procedures, and test fuel specifications for measuring fuel economy.

It's set to become effective June 17.

The coalition argues the rule “imposes unworkable emissions standards on passenger cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty vehicles” and the EPA is “attempting to use the weight of the federal government to force manufacturers to produce more EVs.”

The rule’s stated goal is for manufacturers to produce enough electric vehicles to account for nearly 70% of cars available for sale within 10 years. The mandate is being pushed as the U.S. does not have the electric grid or infrastructure to support it, critics argue, and as the majority of Americans oppose purchasing electric vehicles. Last year, EV sales in the U.S. were 8.4% of total vehicle sales despite millions in federal rebates and subsidies offered.

Forcing a transition to EVs would “devastate the American economy, threaten jobs, raise prices and undermine the reliability of the electric grid,” the coalition argues.

“The Biden Administration is willing to sacrifice the American auto industry and its workers in service of its radical green agenda,” Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman said. “We just aren’t buying it. Demand for EVs continues to fall, and even those who want to buy one can’t afford it amid historic inflation.”

The lawsuit was filed as 50% of likely voters surveyed say the Biden administration should reduce its electric vehicle sales target and car dealers say consumers’ interest in buying EVs has waned, a recent The Center Square Voters' Voice Poll found.

It also comes after more than 4,000 dealerships from every state sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to “tap the brakes” on his proposed EV mandate. After receiving no response, in January, more than 5,000 dealers sent a second letter urging the president to “slam the brakes,” The Center Square reported.

The EPA’s push comes as car manufacturers’ profits have dropped, with many announcing layoffs and scrapping their proposed EV production plans.

Ford Motor Company lost roughly $4.7 billion on EVs in 2023 and is projected to lose between $5 billion and $5.5 billion this year, Fox Business reported.

Tesla announced it is cutting 10% of its global workforce after reporting an 8.5% year-over-year decline in first-quarter deliveries. Its stock price also dropped over 30% so far this year, “erasing billions of dollars in market capitalization,” The New York Times reported.

GM also scrapped its plan to build 400,000 EVs, delayed producing its EV pickup trucks at a Michigan plant by one year, and dropped a $5 billion plan to jointly develop EVs with Honda Motor, Reuters reported.

According to a new Gallup poll, only 35% of Americans say they might consider buying an EV in the future. Interest among those who were seriously considering purchasing an EV dropped from 55% in 2023 to 44% today; opposition to purchasing an EV increased from 41% to 48%.

Joining Coleman are attorneys general representing the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.



SEC PLAN TO TRACK AMERICANS’ STOCK INVESTMENTS SPARKS LEGAL FIGHT

Sunday, April 21, 2021
By Kevin Stocklin

‘We think it’s vital to strangle this new illegal power grab,’ Scott Shepard, director of the Free Enterprise Project, said.

All stock trades conducted on U.S. exchanges will soon be surveilled by the government, according to a newly implemented plan by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The SEC’s “Consolidated Audit Trail” (CAT) mandate would “allow regulators to efficiently and accurately track all activity throughout the U.S. markets,” the SEC stated.

In announcing the launch of this plan, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler stated in September 2023 that “prior to CAT’s creation, regulators lacked a consolidated view of the material information of all orders in [exchange-traded] securities.”

The CAT plan was originally proposed under the Obama administration in 2012 but remained dormant under the Trump administration. It is currently being resurrected under the Biden administration.

This plan ran into some resistance last week, however, from a group of lawyers and retired judges who see it as a historic violation of Americans’ civil rights.

A complaint filed on April 16 by the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), as a prelude to a lawsuit, called the CAT mandate “an unprecedented scheme by an administrative agency … to unilaterally set in motion one of the greatest government-mandated mass collections of personal financial data in United States history.”

According to the NCLA and others who have joined the legal action, the plan expands a trend of already extensive government surveillance, exceeds the SEC’s authority, and infringes on Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections against warrantless government searches.

“The SEC has no statutory authority to do this at all,” Peggy Little, senior litigation counsel with the NCLA, told The Epoch Times, calling the plan “a surveillance system.”

“We think it’s vital to strangle this new illegal power grab,” Scott Shepard, director of the Free Enterprise Project, who has signed on to the complaint, told The Epoch Times.

“The idea that this SEC can be relied on not to abuse this vast cache of financial information for which it has no legitimate use is laughable,” Mr. Shepard stated.

The SEC, however, insisted that it had the necessary authority to enact the CAT system.

“The Commission undertakes its regulatory responsibilities consistent with its authorities,” an SEC spokesperson told The Epoch Times.

The SEC argues that the CAT program is necessary to protect investors, prevent financial crimes, and investigate events such as the 2010 “Flash Crash,” which caused markets worldwide to tumble, temporarily wiping out $1 trillion in market value in one day.

MASS SURVEILLANCE’ OF AMERICANS’ FINANCIAL DATA

The plan’s critics, however, argue that these laudable goals must be weighed against the extensive infringement on Americans’ right to privacy.

Calling it “the single largest government database targeting the private activities of American citizens,” former Attorney General William Barr wrote in an April 15 Wall Street Journal op-ed: “That a few bad apples might engage in misconduct doesn’t justify mass surveillance of everyone’s private affairs.”

This database would reportedly allow more than 3,000 government employees in more than 20 agencies to monitor the personal investment activities of tens of millions of Americans in real time, he wrote.

“If our society accepts the SEC’s rationale for CAT, there is no reason to confine the government to databases on investment activities,” Mr. Barr stated. “Digital records on a range of personal activity can help crack criminal cases.

“Phone companies have data from our smartphones, automakers have data from our cars, and so forth,” he wrote. “Why not maximize the efficiency of all law enforcement by pumping this information into government databases, so investigators have it in real time?”

The CAT plan also has its critics in Congress.

In a November op-ed, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) wrote: “The Securities and Exchange Commission is supposed to protect investors, not stalk them.”

By implementing the CAT program, “the SEC has paved the way for the federal agency to follow an investor’s every move,” Mr. Kennedy stated. “Here’s just a bit of the information the SEC is forcing brokers to fork over: their customers’ full names, birth years, addresses, which stocks they bought, which stocks they sold, and when those transactions occurred.”

Google and Amazon are reportedly among the competitors for contracts to create “the biggest database in U.S. history,” in order to comply with the SEC directive.

The extensive cost of setting up and running the CAT program will be paid by brokerage firms, but critics say those costs will simply be passed on to everyday Americans.

“Those costs will run into the billions of dollars and will represent an enormous deadweight tax on American investors,” Ms. Little said.

Critics also worry that collecting Americans’ private financial information in government databases could leave it vulnerable to hackers.

“The SEC itself has been hacked on several occasions,” Ms. Little said. “It is shocking to me that they would take all of this data and expose it to hacking and to theft.”

Attempting to assuage these concerns, however, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) stated at a 2019 Senate Banking Committee hearing: “Some take issue with the SEC, or any government agency, having this much data and call the system a target for hackers. I refuse to accept that we can’t both protect people’s personal information and go after criminals who take advantage of our markets.

“Just last week, the SEC filed charges against 18 people, most of them in China, who engaged in a six-year market manipulation scheme using dozens of accounts, across many brokerage firms, that resulted in 31 million dollars of illicit profits,” Mr. Brown stated. “While we’ll never know if the new system would have made it easier to uncover those crimes, it is that kind of activity that the SEC should have the technology to uncover.”



REPUBLICAN SENATORS CRITICIZE FISA SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM AFTER BILL PASSAGE

April 20, 2024
By Aldgra Fredly

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has expressed his discontent with the passing of the ‘horrible bill.’

The Senate passed a controversial surveillance bill on April 20, drawing criticism from several Republican lawmakers who argue that it violates Americans’ constitutional privacy protections.

The Reforming Intelligence and Securing America Act, which reauthorizes Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for two years, passed in a 60–34 vote that concluded 45 minutes after the 12 a.m. ET deadline.

“We have good news for America’s national security: Senators have reached an agreement that clears the way to approve FISA reauthorization tonight,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

“Allowing FISA to expire would have been dangerous. It’s an important part of our national security toolkit and helps law enforcement stop terrorist attacks, drug trafficking, and violent extremism,” he added.

Several Republican lawmakers have expressed reservations about the bill’s passage due to FISA Section 702 allowing intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance on foreign nationals overseas without warrants.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who voted against the FISA reauthorization bill, took to X (formerly known as Twitter) on April 20 to express his discontent with the passing of the “horrible bill.”

“Tonight the Senate passed the House-passed FISA expansion bill—after rejecting seven different amendments requiring a warrant and otherwise reforming FISA 702,” the senator stated.

“This is a horrible bill. It shows wanton disregard for the rights of Americans. This is not a day to celebrate,” he added.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that he had voted against the legislation because it “did not go far enough in protecting Americans’ privacy rights from intrusions by the federal government.”

“How FISA has been used and abused in the past is extremely troubling. While it performs a critically important role—particularly at a time when President Biden has allowed millions of illegal aliens to pour across our border—we must not sacrifice Americans’ constitutional privacy protections,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said the Department of Justice’s abuses of FISA to spy on Americans are “unacceptable” and go against the protections enshrined in the country’s Fourth Amendment.

“The prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure can’t be taken for granted,” Mr. Cramer stated.

Some Democrat lawmakers also opposed the bill. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement that Americans should not have to compromise their liberty for security.

“It is clear from the votes on very popular amendments that senators were unwilling to send this bill back to the House, no matter how common-sense the amendment before them.

“Time after time anti-reformers pledge that their band-aid changes to the law will curb abuses, and yet every time, the public learns about fresh abuses by officials who face little meaningful oversight,” he stated.

The bill was blocked three times in the past five months by House Republicans bucking their party, before passing last week by a 273–147 vote when its duration was shortened from five years to two years.

The bill will now go to President Joe Biden’s desk. Citing the significance of the bill to protecting national security, the White House said that President Biden “will swiftly sign the bill into law.”

Lawmakers took votes on a series of amendments that would strengthen civil liberty protections. But none of these—including an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to require a warrant to search Americans’ Section 702 data and another by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to prohibit federal law enforcement from purchasing Americans’ data from third-party brokers—were passed by the Senate.

Samantha Flow, Joseph Lord, and Reuters contributed to this report.



FIRSTENERGY GAVE $2.5M TO GOP GOVERNORS' DARK MONEY GROUP BACKING DEWINE'S 2018 BID

Sunday, April 21, 2024
Jessie Balmert | USA Today Network

Versions of this story are being published by the USA Today Network, Floodlight, Energy News Network, and the Ohio Capital Journal.

In 2018, Akron-based FirstEnergy donated $2.5 million to a Republican Governors Association-affiliated dark money group backing GOP nominee Mike DeWine in a competitive race for governor.

The previously undisclosed money reveals how invested FirstEnergy was in the outcome of the Ohio governor’s race between DeWine and Democratic challenger Rich Cordray. At the time, FirstEnergy wanted to bail out two nuclear plants then owned by a subsidiary but faced opposition from Ohio leaders like then-Gov. John Kasich.

Both DeWine and Cordray had promised to save two northern Ohio nuclear plants if they became governor, and the company chipped in publicly disclosed money to both the Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association.

But newly released records show FirstEnergy donated $2.5 million in three installments to State Solutions, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit affiliated with the Republican Governors Association that is not required to disclose its donors. One installment of $500,000 is labeled “DeWine;” the other two are listed as “RGA,” according to records released by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, Floodlight, Ohio Capital Journal and the Energy News Network.

DeWine met with FirstEnergy executives at an RGA fundraiser in downtown Columbus on Oct. 10, 2018, the Dayton Daily News first reported. Shortly after, FirstEnergy Solutions donated $500,000 to RGA, according to tax records.

FirstEnergy also donated $200,000 to the Citizens Policy Institute, which blasted Cordray for being “Republican Lite,” according to released records. Cleveland restaurateur Tony George, a close FirstEnergy ally, was behind the group, BuzzFeed News reported at the time.

In November 2018, DeWine defeated Cordray, 50.4% to 46.7%, as Democrats swept elections across the country. In 2019, FirstEnergy helped Republican lawmakers craft House Bill 6, an energy overhaul measure that included $1 billion for the two nuclear plants. DeWine signed House Bill 6 within hours of it hitting his desk.

When asked if the donations influenced DeWine’s support of nuclear energy, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said: “Gov. DeWine’s support for nuclear energy is documented well prior to 2018, including during his tenure as United States senator.”

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said the company was unable to comment on pending litigation. Shareholders sued FirstEnergy after federal investigators revealed an extensive pay-to-play scandal bankrolled by the Ohio utility.

That federal investigation led to a 20-year prison sentence for former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a five-year sentence for ex-Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges and the firing of several FirstEnergy executives. Attorneys in the shareholder lawsuit have sought to subpoena records from DeWine and depose Husted, but neither faces any criminal accusations.

FirstEnergy donated $1 million through a dark money group to back Husted’s bid for governor in 2017, according to previously released records. Husted and DeWine were competitors until they merged campaigns in November 2017.

CONCERNS RAISED

In 2018, the nuclear plants’ owner FirstEnergy Solutions was in bankruptcy. So creditors raised concerns about a $1 million payment earmarked to help DeWine’s campaign, according to emails exchanged on Aug. 11, 2018. “They cited it is very large compared to DeWine’s current fundraising.”

Senior Vice President of External Affairs Michael Dowling tried to allay concerns by explaining that donors can back DeWine’s bid in several ways, including giving to DeWine’s campaign fund, the Republican Governors Association, State Solutions and the Ohio Republican Party’s state candidate fund.

“Theoretically, DeWine/Husted could have a balance of $10M in their campaign account and the RGA could spend $40M in support of DeWine in Ohio,” Dowling explained in an email. “My point is that comparing the size of a contribution to the RGA to what the DeWine campaign has raised or what the DeWine Campaign’s current balance is can be done, but I’m not sure is logical.”

Republican fundraiser Brooke Bodney, who worked with the RGA, confirmed: “All factually accurate.”

Meanwhile, FirstEnergy Solutions’ David Griffing reassured Akin Gump’s Rick Burdick that there was no connection between State Solutions and DeWine’s campaign. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld is a powerful law firm that represented FirstEnergy Solutions during its bankruptcy and lobbied for House Bill 6.

The issue was important because exchanging a political favor for a campaign donation would be illegal, a quid pro quo.

“Thanks,” Burdick wrote. “Just to confirm there is also no understanding with the DeWine campaign re his position on regulatory relief for nuclear plants related to this contribution.”

“Correct,” Griffing replied.

Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.



OHIO LT. GOV. HUSTED WON'T SAY IF HE KNEW ABOUT $1M DARK-MONEY CONTRIBUTION

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Marty Schladen | Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted is refusing to say whether he was aware of a $1 million contribution in 2017 to a political group that was supporting his bid for governor. Instead, his office is only reiterating that the group wasn’t affiliated with the Husted campaign.

The massive donation came from Akron-based FirstEnergy, which over the next two years ponied up more than $60 million in bribes in exchange for a $1.3 billion ratepayer bailout — a law that Gov. Mike DeWine signed just hours after it passed.

The donation was discovered among a trove of documents that a group of news organizations including the Capital Journal requested from the Office of Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.

As reported last week by the Energy News Network and Floodlight, the documents also contained emails indicating that Husted was lobbying DeWine to support the bailout. The lobbying came just 11 days after Husted abandoned his gubernatorial bid and joined DeWine’s ticket on Dec. 1, 2017.

“Jon Husted called me to say he was meeting with DeWine on our issue to try and get him aligned to help keep the plants open,” a Dec. 12, 2017 email by FirstEnergy lobbyist Joel Bailey said.

The plants were money-losing nuclear and coal plants that FirstEnergy wanted to prop up with the bailout and then spin off.

FirstEnergy in 2021 signed a deferred prosecution agreement in which it admitted to paying bribes to elect a friendly Republican majority to the state House, which would elect a friendly speaker who would pass and protect the corrupt bailout. 

The company also admitted to paying a $4.3 million bribe to Sam Randazzo, DeWine’s pick to chair the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, who died by suicide last week. A state indictment said that FirstEnergy executives arranged the bribe with Randazzo the same night they discussed his suitability as a regulator at a dinner meeting with Gov.-elect DeWine and Lt. Gov.-elect Husted on Dec. 18, 2018.

The ensuing scandal has landed former House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, in federal prison for 20 years, and former Ohio GOP Chair Matt Borges for five. Two others have pleaded guilty and await sentencing. Another defendant, lobbyist Neil Clark, also died by suicide — clad in a “DeWine for Governor” T-shirt.

DeWine and Husted haven’t been charged in case, and they adamantly deny wrongdoing.

However, they haven’t publicly discussed just what they knew about Randazzo’s long-standing relationship with FirstEnergy, or what they knew about the torrent of dark money flooding from FirstEnergy into Capitol Square to pass and protect the bailout. They also haven’t discussed what senior administration officials with close ties to FirstEnergy might have known.

Among the documents turned over once FirstEnergy made its agreement with federal prosecutors was a spreadsheet listing 501(c)(4) political contributions the company made in 2017. 

Such donations are called “dark money” because recipients don’t have to disclose their sources. By law, dark-money contributions can’t go directly to candidates, but they can go to groups that support them, but aren’t supposed to directly coordinate with them.

The FirstEnergy spreadsheet is only now becoming public because the FBI investigated the scandal and the U.S. Department of Justice brought a prosecution. During the battle over the bailout law in 2019, there were suspicions that FirstEnergy was bankrolling the effort, but the press and public couldn’t know because the money was being funneled through dark-money groups — without which U.S. Attorney David DeVillers said the conspiracy would have been impossible.

Now that FirstEnergy’s 2017 donation to a Husted-aligned group is known, it raises new questions.

Special interests sometimes piously claim that they spend millions on politics solely in the interests of “good government.” But as was shown in Householder’s lengthy trial last year, corporate political donations are often — if not usually — intended to buy influence with people in government.

In order for that to happen, a government official would have to know that a special interest had contributed on his or her behalf. But Husted — who is eyeing a 2026 gubernatorial run — won’t say whether he knew that FirstEnergy in 2017 gave a million bucks to a group supporting his earlier bid.

His spokeswoman, Hayley Carducci, was asked if Husted knew of the contribution and if he did, when he learned of it. She was also asked if Husted persuaded DeWine to support the FirstEnergy bailout; what Husted knew about Randazzo’s links to FirstEnergy when he was picked to regulate the company; and whether he knew that FirstEnergy was flooding Cap Square with dark money in its effort to pass and preserve the bailout.

In an email, Carducci repeated her earlier statement: “The Husted campaign never received this donation and is not affiliated with any of these groups.”

She added, “As for your other questions, we will not be commenting.”



FBI LAUNCHES CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION INTO SHIP THAT CAUSED BALTIMORE BRIDGE COLLAPSE

Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Jake Smith | The Ohio Star

The FBI has begun an investigation into the ship responsible for striking the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore in March, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

The “Dali,” a near-1000 foot long cargo ship, temporarily lost power and sailed into one of the bridge’s support beams on Mar. 26, causing the entire bridge to collapse into the river and killing six people. The FBI has opened an investigation into the Dali and whether its crew operated it knowing the vessel had operational problems, according to the Post.

Federal authorities appeared to board the Dali in the early hours of the morning on Monday and began navigating the ship, according to the Post. The FBI confirmed it was onboard the Dali on Monday but did not share what exactly it was probing or looking at.

“The FBI is present aboard the cargo ship Dali conducting court authorized law enforcement activity,” the agency told the Post in a statement on Monday.

“My office generally will not confirm the existence of or otherwise comment about investigations,” Erek L. Barron, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, told the Post in a statement on Monday. “However, the public should know, whether it’s gun violence, civil rights abuse, financial fraud, or any other threat to public safety or property, we will seek accountability for anyone who may be responsible.”

The FBI’s probe is separate from the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation, which is examining why the Dali struck the bridge and possible safety failures. The NTSB confirmed in late March that there were over 764 tons of hazardous materials onboard the ship when it struck the bridge.

“Mostly corrosives, flammables, and some miscellaneous hazardous materials, class nine hazardous materials, which would include lithium-ion batteries,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said during a press conference on Mar. 27.

Chilean authorities during an inspection in June 2023 detained the ship after discovering pressure gauge issues. The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) of Singapore confirmed in June 2023 there was a “faulty monitor gauge for fuel pressure” discovered during the inspection.



ASTRONAUT THOMAS STAFFORD, COMMANDER OF APOLLO 10, HAS DIED AT AGE 93

Friday April 8, 2021
Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer

Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford, who commanded a dress rehearsal flight for the 1969 moon landing and the first U.S.-Soviet space linkup, died Monday. He was 93.

Stafford, a retired Air Force three-star general, took part in four space missions. Before Apollo 10, he flew on two Gemini flights, including the first rendezvous of two U.S. capsules in orbit. He died in a hospital near his Space Coast Florida home, said Max Ary, director of the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma.

Stafford was one of 24 NASA astronauts who flew to the moon, but he did not land on it. Only seven of them are still alive.

"Today General Tom Stafford went to the eternal heavens which he so courageously explored as a Gemini and Apollo astronaut as well as a peacemaker in Apollo Soyuz," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said via X, formerly known as Twitter. "Those of us privileged to know him are very sad but grateful we knew a giant."

After he put away his flight suit, Stafford was the go-to guy for NASA when it sought independent advice on everything from human Mars missions to safety issues to returning to flight after the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident. He chaired an oversight group that looked into how to fix the then-flawed Hubble Space Telescope, earning a NASA public service award.

"Tom was involved in so many things that most people were not aware of, such as being known as the 'Father of Stealth'," Ary said in an email. Stafford was in charge of the famous "Area 51" desert base that was the site of many UFO theories, but the home of testing of Air Force stealth technologies.

The Apollo 10 mission in May 1969 set the stage for Apollo 11's historic mission two months later. Stafford and Gene Cernan took the lunar lander nicknamed Snoopy within 9 miles (14 kilometers) of the moon's surface. Astronaut John Young stayed behind in the main spaceship dubbed Charlie Brown.

"The most impressive sight, I think, that really changed your view of things is when you first see Earth," Stafford recalled in a 1997 oral history, talking about the view from lunar orbit.

Then came the moon's far side: "The Earth disappears. There's this big black void."

Apollo 10's return to Earth set the world's record for fastest speed by a crewed vehicle at 24,791 mph (39,897 kph).

After the moon landings ended, NASA and the Soviet Union decided on a joint docking mission and Stafford, a one-star general at the time, was chosen to command the American side. It meant intensive language training, being followed by the KGB while in the Soviet Union, and lifelong friendships with cosmonauts. The two teams of space travelers even went to Disney World and rode Space Mountain together before going into orbit and joining ships.

"We have capture," Stafford radioed in Russian as the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft hooked up. His Russian counterpart, Alexei Leonov, responded in English: "Well done, Tom, it was a good show. I vote for you."

The 1975 mission included two days during which the five men worked together on experiments. After, the two teams toured the world together, meeting President Gerald Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

"It helped prove to the rest of the world that two completely opposite political systems could work together," Stafford recalled at a 30th anniversary gathering in 2005.

 

The two crews became so close that years later Leonov arranged for Stafford to be able to adopt two Russian boys when Stafford was in his 70s.

"We are too old to adopt, but they were too old to be adopted," Stafford told The Oklahoman in 2004. "They just added so much meaning to our life, and just because you're retiring doesn't mean you don't have anything left to give."

Later, Stafford was a central part of discussions in the 1990s that brought Russia into the partnership building and operating the International Space Station.

Growing up in Weatherford, Oklahoma, Stafford said he would look up and see giant DC-3 airplanes fly overhead on early transcontinental routes.

"I wanted to fly since I was 5 or 6 years old seeing those airplanes," he told NASA historians.

Stafford went to the U.S. Naval Academy where he graduated in the top 1% of his class and flew in the backseat of some airplanes and loved it. He volunteered for the Air Force and had hoped to fly combat in the Korean War. But by the time he got his wings, the war ended. He went to the Air Force's experimental test pilot school, graduated first in his class there and stayed on as an instructor.

In 1962, NASA selected Stafford for its second set of astronauts, which included Neil Armstrong, Frank Borman and Pete Conrad.

 

Stafford was assigned along with Wally Schirra to Gemini 6. Their original mission was to rendezvous with an empty spaceship. But their 1965 launch was scrubbed when the spaceship exploded soon after liftoff. NASA improvised and in December, Gemini 6 rendezvoused with but didn't dock with two astronauts aboard Gemini 7.

Stafford's next flight in 1966 was with Cernan on Gemini 9. Cernan's spacewalk, connected to a jet-pack like device, didn't go well. Cernan complained that the sun and machine made him extra hot and hurt his back. Then his visor fogged up and he couldn't see.

"Call it quits, Gene. Get out of there," Stafford, the commander, told Cernan. Stafford talked him back in, saying "move your hand over, start to float up ... stick your hand up ... just walk hand over hand."

In all, Stafford logged 507 hours in space and flew four different types of spacecraft and 127 types of aircraft and helicopters.

After the Apollo-Soyuz mission, Stafford returned to the Air Force and worked in research and commanded the Air Force Flight Test Center before retiring in 1979 as a three-star general.

Stafford's Air Force duties not only had him run the military's top flight school and experimental plane testing base, but he was commanding general of Area 51. A biography from his museum said, that while Stafford was in charge of Area 51 and later as the development and acquisition chief at the Pentagon he "wrote the specs and established the program that led to the development of the F-117 Stealth Fighter, and later, the B-2 Stealth Bomber."

Stafford became an executive for an Oklahoma-based transportation company and later moved to Florida, near Cape Canaveral.

He is survived by his wife. Linda, two sons, two daughters and two stepchildren, according to the museum.



EX-PUCO CHAIRMAN SAM RANDAZZO ACCUSED IN FIRST ENERGY BRIBERY SCHEME HAS DIED BY SUICIDE

April 9, 2024

Laura A. Bischoff and Jessie Balmert | Cincinnati Enquirer

Former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo, who was facing criminal charges over a bribery scandal, has died by suicide.

A spokesman for the Franklin County Coroner said Randazzo was found shortly before noon Tuesday in a Columbus warehouse that he owned.

Randazzo, 74, of Columbus, was recently accused of accepting $4.3 million from Akron-based FirstEnergy to help the company with a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants and regulation that would have cost the company money. He was also accused of embezzling from his clients. He had pleaded not guilty to charges in state and federal court.

A spokesman for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the governor's office had no comment on Randazzo's death on Tuesday.

Randazzo is the second man accused of crimes in the House Bill 6 case to die by suicide. Long-time lobbyist Neil Clark shot himself in Florida while awaiting trial in federal court. Clark, who was wearing a DeWine for governor T-shirt, had pleaded not guilty.

Randazzo's attorneys recently asked that their client be excused from wearing a GPS monitor.

Randazzo's attorney did not disclose the medical reason behind the request. But the Ohio Attorney General's Office wrote that "a mental health professional has opined that the GPS monitor that Randazzo is required to wear as a condition of his bond has negative health consequences for Randazzo."

WHO WAS SAM RANDAZZO?

Gov. Mike DeWine appointed Randazzo to lead the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in February 2019. Before that, he served as an attorney in the utility sphere. He represented large industrial energy users. He had a reputation as a sharp lawyer with deep expertise in energy policies.

The PUCO regulates telecom, natural gas and electric companies. The chairman has one vote but helps guide the commission.

FirstEnergy quietly pitched Randazzo for the PUCO job. Text messages show Randazzo had a chummy relationship with FirstEnergy executives.

And Randazzo went on to advocate for House Bill 6, which would've provided a $1.3 billion bailout to help FirstEnergy and other utilities. DeWine signed HB 6 into law in July 2019.

Randazzo's condo was searched by the FBI in November 2020 and he resigned shortly after.

In July 2020, FirstEnergy signed a deferred prosecution agreement in which it agreed to pay a $230 million fine and cooperate with prosecutors. The company admitted in the agreement that it bribed Randazzo and former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder.

A federal jury convicted Householder and former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges of racketeering conspiracy. Householder is now serving 20 years and Borges five years in federal prison.

Laura Bischoff and Jessie Balmert are reporters for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.