FALLING WATERS, W.Va. (WDVM) — The indictment last week of the Speaker of Ohio’s House of Representatives is drawing some attention to campaign donations made to West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.
It involves alleged payoffs from First Energy in the Buckeye State and the company’s relationship with Justice.
Speaker Larry Householder is accused of taking $60 million from the utility company for his political enterprise and for a home in Florida. But First Energy, with operations in West Virginia, wrote campaign checks to Justice for more than $23,000. At the time, Justice failed to disclose he was personally being sued by the company for owing more than $3 million, while helping steer a $12 million tax break through the legislature for a First Energy power station.
Democrat Ben Salango is challenging Justice in the November election and says voters are entitled to complete transparency about the governor’s ties to the company.
“There was actually litigation involved in First Energy’s bankruptcy proceeding, trying to get the governor to pay his debts, like many other companies have tried to get him to do,” says Salango. “And this is just a situation where the governor was not transparent and both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called him out for it.”
But allies of the governor defend his actions. Eastern panhandle Delegate Larry Kump (R – Berkley, Morgan), while critical of the governor for not calling a special legislative session on the billion dollar-plus federal COVID-19 funds to be distributed, says there is no evidence Governor Justice did anything illegal.
“The facts will come out as they come out,” says Kump. “Meanwhile, to the best of my knowledge and information, the governor has done nothing wrong and there’s no reason for an investigation at this point.”
When asked about taking the First Energy money, Governor Justice said it was “ridiculous” to call it inappropriate, and that only three percent of his campaign funding was from the company and that he wrote a check himself for $1.8 million to win the primary last month.
While a federal jury will have a say in the relationship between First Energy and Ohio Speaker Householder, West Virginia voters will have a say in the relationship between the energy giant and their governor.
Meanwhile, Justice calls the criticism of his taking the First Energy money a “desperate political tactic.”