Former Ohio House Speaker Investigated by FBI For Accepting Bribes From Payday Lending Lobbyists

Inside Subprime: Aug 30, 2018

By Ben Moore

Ohio Speaker Cliff Rosenberger is currently being investigated by the FBI under accounts that he worked illegally with payday lending lobbyists. His computer as well as thousands of travel documents have been seized and subpoenaed, and his office has been inventoried as the FBI investigates the possible bribery and extortion charges that have been placed on Rosenberger. The FBI was looking for “communications or information concerning: payday lending legislation: evidence of payments, kickbacks, bribes, or other benefits.” Investigators also asked for records “between or among individuals and entities that helped fund, sponsor, or plan Rosenberger’s travel either directly or indirectly.” Federal extortion convictions can result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and federal bribery up to 15 years, with the inclusion of fines with both charges.

The investigation helps shine some light on Rosenberger’s resignation in April of this year, in which he resigned after questions arose around his travel spending. The main focus of the investigation is specifically a London trip taken in August of last year which included Rosenberger and three payday lending lobbyists, Stephen Dimon, Leslie Gaines, and Carol Stewart. The trip was funded by GOPAC Education Fund’s Institute for Leadership Development. Typically, legislators travel expenses are funded through either the legislator’s campaign fund, funds from the House, or sometimes a scholarship from a third party. There are guidelines that must be followed: who is funding the trip must be disclosed, gifts over $75 cannot be accepted, the trip must be clearly job related, and any gifts accepted cannot be in exchange for political favors. But Rosenberger’s travel expenses have already been highly scrutinized over the past few years. During Rosenberger’s first year as speaker, his campaign contributed about $11,000 to his travel expenses. By 2017, that number was up to $33,000.  And while travel for a House leader is not unusual, over the last three years, Rosenberger has traveled more than 250 days.

The trip is being seen as proof that Rosenberger discussed, with the lobbyists, a Bill that was introduced to the House in 2017 and noted as being anti-payday lenders. The bill, House Bill 123, did not receive a hearing until 8 months after it’s March 2017 introduction. The Ohio Consumer Lenders Association, which works to lobby for payday lenders, claims that Rosenberger was behind the delay. Ted Saunders and Cheney Pruett, OCLA members, wrote in a letter that Rosenberger “was telling members and editorial boards that he favored reform while telling certain lobbyists and their clients that he would prevent any reform from taking place on his watch.”

The FBI’s warrant cites the possibility of violating the 1961 Travel Act. The Act “outlaws the use of interstate or international travel to commit certain crimes, including extortion and bribery.” Rosenberger’s attorney claims that Rosenberger is not guilty of extortion or bribery, but the investigation is still ongoing. However, the investigation comes at a crucial moment before fall elections, and the impact of the investigation could be seen in the election results. David Pepper, Ohio’s Democratic Party Chairman, sees the investigation as exposing “just how deep the culture of corruption runs at the statehouse.”

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