The professional lives of certain jobs and their entertainment portrayals rarely overlap. Cops aren’t perpetually pursuing bad guy after bad guy terrorizing an area, doctors aren’t presented with new challenging cases each day at the hospital and public affairs workers, specifically those with political implications like government relations directors, aren’t quickly walking the halls engaging in fast paced dialogue with peers like in the West Wing.
But sometimes real life and the mysterious intrigue that drives entertainment do intersect. Today in Collier County, Florida the body of a prominent Ohio lobbyist under federal investigation for a dark money bribery case was uncovered. To be clear, this is a tragedy and not entertainment, especially since a quote from his wife about money problems suggests the head wound may have been self-inflicted. However, it does sound like something out of a television show as the details start to unravel.
The investigation began midway through last year that alleges Ohio State House Speaker Larry Householder accepted money from an energy company in the form of dark money contributions totaling nearly $61 million to a political committee in exchange for pushing through a bill that directed around $1.5 billion in funds to the energy company. Householder has been voted out of the speakership but is still a member of the Ohio State House. He and the lobbyist found in Florida had pled not guilty to bribery charges but others implicated in the investigation have admitted guilt.
This instance differs from the purpose of the West Central Alliance in several ways, but now that it has established a Florida connection, is too outrageous of an example not to use for a Brace for Impact column. This blog’s very name is derived from the feeling of situations just like this where the public wonders what could happen next.
Let’s start our analysis of the differences in our mission with this story with the obvious. This took place not only in a different state but at the state level. WCA is dedicated to being the Last Line of Local Defense focusing at the county and city levels of government; not the state house or senate.
The second difference is in the type of political committees that Rep. Householder was using versus the types of committees more commonly seen in Florida politics. The energy company contributed over $60 million to a 501(c)4 lobbying organizations called Generation Now. This is the designation given to most large political action committees commonly called “Super PACs.”
What we see in Florida are political committees affiliated with candidates, or PCs as opposed to PACs, that act more like campaigns than issue-based nonprofits like 501(c)4 Super PACs.
These campaign-like actions PCs take are mainly in the form of contributions, including sponsorships, event tickets, to political parties or to other candidates, and electioneering communication. This last part is where the devil lives in the details.
Most people don’t worry about PACs in elections because they believe candidates can’t coordinate with the organizations that can raise free of traditional campaign finance law. This is incorrect when talking about PCs.
Candidates and elected officials can coordinate with their PCs if the affiliation is publicly stated and if the PC avoids expressly advocating for the election of their candidate or against the election of another. This is a grey area that allows for almost anything to be said about any candidate as long as it doesn’t say the words “vote” and “for” near each other.
These PCs will sometimes have names that identify their affiliation, such as Friends of Randy Fine or the Palm Beach City Police Benevolent Association Committee but more often than not they have ambiguous names like Building Better Conservatism, the Economic Freedom Committee and People for Ethical Government. All of these are real committees registered in Florida that made contributions at the city level in the Delray Beach mayor’s election last week.
While the problem of dark money has come to light in Ohio at the state level, the Alliance is committed to greater transparency measures when committees get involved in our local politics here in Florida.
It’s an awful tragedy that the Ohio lobbyist was discovered in Florida. His death does serve to highlight the crushing weight of corruption that can happen when people in politics think they can operate in the shadows.