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Former state House speaker’s conviction part of a striking pattern

As a jury convicted a former Republican state House speaker in a corruption case, the guilty verdict was noticed nationwide.

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For political observers outside of Ohio, Larry Householder’s name is probably unfamiliar. But the former Republican state House speaker was facing federal criminal charges that generated attention far outside the Buckeye State, making his conviction yesterday that much more notable. The Associated Press reported:

Former state House Speaker Larry Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges were convicted Thursday in a $60 million bribery scheme that federal prosecutors have called the largest corruption case in state history. A jury in Cincinnati found the two guilty of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise involving bribery and money laundering, after about 9-1/2 half hours of deliberations over two days.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker told reporters that the prosecutorial team proved that Householder “sold the statehouse, and thus he ultimately betrayed the people of the great state of Ohio he was elected to serve.”

As is often the case in corruption cases, there’s a degree of complexity to the underlying allegations, but as The Boston Globe explained in a good report this week, prosecutors argued that the former GOP speaker funneled more than $60 million from an energy company through a dark-money group in exchange for a lucrative bailout.

A Cleveland Plain Dealer report added that some of that $60 million ended up benefiting the Republican lawmaker personally: Prosecutors pointed to evidence that Householder used the money to pay down legal debts, credit card bills, and repairs to a home in Florida.

Why would this matter to political observers outside of Ohio? From the Globe’s article, published before yesterday’s conviction was announced:

Legal experts say that if the jury convicts Householder, the case could send a message through the campaign finance world about the consequences of misusing dark-money groups, a term for a category of tax-exempt nonprofits that can raise unlimited sums to influence politics without ever disclosing their donors. But the experts warn that an acquittal could open the floodgates even more for the political use of such secret donation groups.

The guilty verdict, in other words, wasn’t just noticed in Columbus.

But while we await sentencing in the case, it’s also worth pausing to appreciate just how frequently we’ve seen state House speakers run into legal trouble like this in recent years.

As regular readers might recall, it was in October 2014 when Bobby Harrell, the Republican state House speaker in South Carolina, pled guilty to six counts related to misusing his campaign account for personal benefit.

A month later, Mike Hubbard, the Republican state House speaker in Alabama, was arrested for multiple alleged felonies, including the misuse of his public office for personal gain. He ultimately served more than two years in prison.

In January 2015, meanwhile, prosecutors indicted Sheldon Silver, the Democratic state House speaker in New York, on corruption charges. He, too, was later sentenced to prison.

In March 2022, Michael Madigan, the Democratic state House speaker in Illinois, was indicted on federal racketeering charges. His trial is still pending.

And it was in July 2020 when Ohio’s Householder was first arrested, culminating in yesterday’s conviction.