COLUMBUS, Ohio—A Republican former candidate for state legislature has filed a $1 million civil lawsuit against Larry Householder, FirstEnergy and others involved in the House Bill 6 bribery scandal, claiming the ex-House speaker’s operation wrongly used dark money to run defamatory ads against him.
It’s the latest legal aftershock following the arrest of Householder and four allies in July on charges they used $60 million in bribe money from FirstEnergy to secure passage of House Bill 6. Householder has proclaimed his innocence, and FirstEnergy has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing.
Bobby Mitchell, a suburban Columbus pastor who filed the suit, asserts some of that money was used by a Householder-allied group, the Growth & Opportunity PAC, to run negative ads against him last February, as he was running for House District 78 southeast of Columbus.
The mailers sent out by the PAC accused Mitchell of having a “history of debt and fraud,” as well as a “shady past includes state liens for failure to pay child support.” Mitchell ended up garnering about 25% of the vote in the three-way primary on April 28, which was won handily by Pickaway County Commissioner Brian Stewart.
As a result of the ads, Mitchell’s suit claims he was “exposed to public and political shame and disgrace; his personal character and reputation has suffered greatly; and his political standing has been adversely affected.”
The defendants in Mitchell’s lawsuit include Householder, FirstEnergy, Growth & Opportunity PAC, Householder political aide Jeff Longstreth (who was also arrested in July), and Generation Now, a dark-money group that Mitchell says funneled the FirstEnergy money to Growth and & Opportunity.
Mitchell initially filed suit back in March in an unsuccessful attempt to win a court order blocking the ads, claiming defamation of character and false light invasion of privacy. He amended his lawsuit on Tuesday to add allegations of a civil racketeering conspiracy.
He is seeking $800,000 for the civil racketeering conspiracy claim, $50,000 for defamation of character, and $25,000 for invasion of privacy, among other damages.
In a direct message, Mitchell said he expanded the lawsuit in response to the FBI’s criminal complaint against Householder and the other four. “They connected all the dots for our legal team,” Mitchell stated.
In an earlier message to cleveland.com, Mitchell stated the Growth & Opportunity PAC targeted him and other anti-Householder GOP primary candidates because he “wasn’t willing to sell my soul to Householder.”
FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young, in an email, declined to comment on the lawsuit, though she pointed to FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones’ comments in late July that he believes his company acted ethically.
Householder’s attorney didn’t immediately return a phone call Wednesday seeking comment.
In March, JB Hadden, an attorney for Growth & Opportunity PAC, said that Mitchell’s request for a temporary restraining order against the negative ads, if granted, would be “an improper restraint for speech under the First Amendment.”
Hadden, a friend of Gov. Mike DeWine and treasurer of DeWine’s 2014 attorney general re-election campaign, served on the board of a dark-money group funded by American Electric Power that gave $350,000 to Householder’s operation, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Hadden didn’t immediately return a phone call Wednesday asking whether he still represents the Growth & Opportunity PAC.
Besides Mitchell’s civil case and the criminal charges against Householder and his associates, Attorney General Dave Yost has also filed a civil lawsuit last month against most of the same defendants listed in Mitchell’s suit.
Read Mitchell’s lawsuit here:
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