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The governor declined to speak through his spokesman.

And when his daughter, Republican Alice DeWine, ran for her father's old job as a Greene County attorney in the 2020 GOP Main Race and lost, Protecting Ohio Inc. sent $ 349,000 to the Protecting Ohio Action Fund to support their Campaign started. Protecting Ohio Inc. donors will not be publicly disclosed. Alice DeWine previously said the money was an independent expense she didn't know about and was surprised to see the campaign mailer they sent out.

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These groups often pay for the type of political activity also carried out by campaigns themselves or their political parties, which need to report who is giving them money. The groups pay for mass mailings, TV, radio, and digital commercials, and other ways to support a candidate or problem.

Behind the scenes, funders were realizing they could have a huge impact on state and local elections for relatively little money, said Catie Kelley, senior director of policy for the Campaign Legal Center.

"The harm is that people have the right to know who is trying to influence candidates and ultimately the legislature over which bills are passed, which bills never come to light and how our government is run," Kelley said.

Catherine Turcer of Common Cause Ohio said, "We have seen an incredible surge in dark money. However, we are talking about a 10 year problem rather than something that has only emerged in recent years."

In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations, unions, associations and nonprofits could give unlimited money for political purposes. If there is no coordination between a candidate's campaign and the outside group, and no conversion of the money for personal use, it is legal.

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The Citizens United case was a victory for free speech, according to the Institute for Free Speech, a Washington DC-based group.

The fear of corruption is misplaced and most political spending comes from candidates, parties and political action committees, said Bradley A. Smith, the institute's founder and chairman and former commissioner of the Federal Elections Commission.

Since the Citizens United ruling, nonprofit groups who are not required to disclose their donors typically accounted for around 3% to 5% of total campaign spending, Smith said in a September column.

"While their role in elections remains small, nonprofits offer voters valuable prospects and information," Smith said in a September column. "Instead of demonizing dark money, we should welcome more speakers and more speeches in campaigns."

Federal investigators used subpoenas and other tools to shed light on how Ohio-based utility companies transferred more than $ 60 million to Generation Now, a 501 (c) 4 organization, which then put the money on a network related Company and accounts transferred.

Federal prosecutors use this graph to show the flow of money in the House Bill 6 public corruption case. Corporations used dark money groups to pass on more than $ 60 million in bribes to Republican Larry Householder and his employees, according to federal prosecutors.

Credit: Contribution

Credit: Contribution

“The millions paid into the company are comparable to money bags – unlike campaign or PAC contributions, they were not regulated, not reported and not publicly audited – and the (household) company freely used the bribe to promote the policy of the To advance the company's interests and to enrich oneself, ”it says in an 80-page affidavit by FBI special agent Blane Wetzel.

The power companies were not named in the affidavit, but the descriptions identify them as FirstEnergy Corp. based in Akron, FirstEnergy Service Co. and FirstEnergy Solutions, now known as Energy Harbor.

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The Householder case affects several groups that are not required to disclose their sources of funding. The FBI named Generation Now Inc., but used pseudonyms for others – Energy Pass-Through, Coalition, Dark Money Group 1. Descriptions of others identify them as partners for Progress Inc., Coalition for Growth and Opportunity Inc., and Hardworking Ohioans Inc. , respectively.

The treasurer for two of these groups, Attorney Eric Lycan, did not respond to comments.

A 501 (c) 4 organization is a tax-exempt social welfare organization whose donors do not need to be publicly disclosed. Much of the spending of 501 (c) 4 organizations must be used for social causes, while the rest can be spent on politics.

Ian Vandewalker, senior lawyer for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, said the IRS rarely enforces this rule so it has little impact.

The money web can be difficult to decipher. Discerning participants are sending the money through multiple organizations to make the persecution more difficult, Kelley said.

For example, a 501 (c) 4 funded by American Electric Power of Columbus donated $ 900,000 to Generation Now and a second group, the Coalition for Growth & Opportunity, over three years. A representative from Generation Now and the Coalition for Growth and Opportunity did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2018, $ 525,000 was also given to State Solutions Inc., who donated money to a company called the American Comeback Committee, which gave the money to the Securing Ohio Action Fund, the outside group that helped drive turnout for Mike DeWine to increase. State Solutions Inc. paid $ 307,500 to a Columbus-based Republican fundraiser in 2018 to raise $ 5 million under the IRS990 form.

Vandewalker and Kelley both said that stratifying money by multiple groups is intended to make it confusing and less transparent.

"I played this game trying to follow the IRS 990s and the Secretary of State Registrations and it's very frustrating," Vandewalker said.

According to Vandewalker and Kelley, disclosure and transparency laws at the state and federal levels should be strengthened to prevent this type of money from being used as a bribe and to give the public more information so that they can learn about voters.

“The Householder case is receiving national attention. I think it will help increase support for disclosure, ”Vandewalker said. He added, "It's a double-edged sword because the allegations are so outrageous that the political status quo says it was bribery and bribery is already illegal, so we don't have to do anything here."

Kelley said, "The court said you can't stop spending. So the solution is to give voters information about where the money is coming from."

While 80% of Americans are in favor of greater transparency in political spending, Kelley said, “It's the political elite that are resisting it. The lawmakers, parties and people who lead these external groups do not want increased transparency. "

Turcer argued that Ohio lawmakers should recognize the House Bill 6 scandal as an opportunity to improve disclosure laws and broaden the rules against coordination between candidates and outside groups.

"Legislators should understand that it is not good for them and the rest of the state to operate in the dark," she said.

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