One of Rep. Larry Householder’s (R-Glenford) recently indicted accomplices was employed in the past by Ohio University to lobby lawmakers in the Statehouse to influence university funding provided through the state budget on at least one occasion, lobbying records show.
Neil S. Clark, an OU alumnus (bachelor’s and master’s degrees) and owner of the Columbus lobbying firm Grant Street Consultants, was personally employed by the university for at least more than a year between January 2009 and August 2010 to lobby for the state budget on its behalf, according to lobbying records.
OU, however, retained State Street Consultants, the lobbying firm Clark founded in 1999 with Democrat Paul Tipps, between April 2003 and January 2009 to advocate for the university at the Statehouse in the absence of an in-house government relations department, Spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said.
State Street Consultants was paid by the university a rate of $4,000 per month, totaling $292,000 over a six-year period for its services, Leatherwood said.
It’s unclear if Clark himself lobbied for the university before 2009 because state lobbying records from before that year are not archived online.
Clark, who personally lobbied for OU on the budget alongside a handful of others in 2009, is a longtime Columbus lobbyist who was arrested and indicted in July in connection to his central involvement in Householder’s alleged scheme to take $60 million in First Energy company bribes to further the former speaker’s political ambitions and influence public policy. Clark pleaded not guilty in July to federal racketeering charges.
It’s not clear, however, what specific provisions Clark was tasked with influencing in the 2009-2010 state budget. Leatherwood said in an email she was unable to provide details about his services “due to the length of time that has passed” since Clark was with the university.
OU received a healthy amount of funding through the state’s budget that year, including a grant for $350,000 in each fiscal year to support the OU Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development, which is known today as The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
Also included in the state budget that year was an earmark providing a $200,000 grant in each fiscal year for the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s mobile health care unit, which deploys large trucks to travel across the state and provide medical services.
The university received an additional $50,000 grant in each fiscal year for the Ohio University leadership Project, a professional development program for school administrators.
Lobbyists are often tasked with ensuring that provisions aren’t included in legislation, though it’s unclear if Clark or his colleagues had their hands in also preventing items from being added in that year’s budget in the interest of OU.
Clark is characterized in a federal affidavit filed against him, Householder and their three other accomplices — referred to collectively as “The Enterprise” — as a member who allegedly oversaw Householder’s dark money nonprofit that was used to funnel what he called “unlimited” funds provided by First Energy and other organizations.
In his own words, Clark was one of Householder’s “closest advisors” and his “hit man” who was willing to do the “dirty shit,” according to the affidavit. He once said he “wanted to be around politicians like Householder who ‘will go to the wall, but those guys that go to the wall can only do it once a year because if they do it all the time everybody knows they’re pay to play,’” the affidavit said.
He also allegedly helped orchestrate their plan to fund the campaigns of candidates in 2018 that they believed would work to elect Householder as speaker and eventually vote for House Bill 6, legislation that ultimately bailed out Ohio nuclear plants.
In addition, Clark reportedly sent text messages to a House member who indicated they wouldn’t vote for House Bill 6, threatening that Householder would withhold future committee chairmanships and prevent their legislation from progressing if they did not bow to the speaker’s wishes, according to the affidavit. He also reportedly helped The Enterprise stop ballot initiative efforts that aimed to defeat House Bill 6.
Clark previously lobbied for other higher education institutions and public school systems. And he served as budget director for the Ohio Senate Republican Caucus.
In recent years, Clark served as a spokesperson and top lobbyist for Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), an online charter school company under investigation by the FBI for overstating its enrollment, according to The Dayton Daily News.