Middle aged man

Ohio Attorney General David Yost

Ohioans across the political spectrum should appreciate Attorney General Dave Yost for fighting the corruption that has been exposed by the historic HB 6 scandal, but he should go even further. Occasionally in Ohio politics, it’s okay to give credit where credit is due –– Yost’s office has filed a landmark civil racketeering lawsuit against all of the indicted parties (and a few others who are in hot water) which prohibits them from lobbying or holding public office for eight years. “Everyone involved in this sordid matter needs to pay a price,” Yost has said. “The goal is to leave no doubt –– among politicians, the powerful and the rich –– that engaging in public corruption will ruin you."

This includes Matt Borges, a former Ohio Republican Party chair turned lobbyist who served as an advisor to Yost’s 2018 campaign for attorney general. Borges was reportedly one of the few people who celebrated Yost’s election victory with him at a private dinner, while Yost referred to Borges as “the wise man of Ohio politics” in his inauguration speech. Borges’ now-deceased co-conspirator Neil Clark alleged in his book What Do I Know? I’m Just a Lobbyist that this close relationship with Yost (and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose) is what FirstEnergy counted on when they brought in Borges to help kill the HB 6 referendum campaign. In August 2019, they funneled $1.62 million to his consulting firm, 17 Consulting Group, via Larry Householder’s dark money group Generation Now to get the ball rolling.

Similar to Borges’ first run-in with the FBI for public corruption –– which resulted in him pleading guilty and paying a modest fine in 2004 –– Borges got swept up into the FBI’s HB 6 investigation without even being the original target. According to court documents, Borges’s biggest expenditure from the $1.62 million he received was passing $600,000 to lobbyist Juan Cespedes, who has since pleaded guilty. The FBI has also accused Borges of trying to bribe folks on the referendum campaignand possibly even influence Yost. After all, Yost rejected the referendum language only a week after Borges started 17 Consulting Group on August 5, 2019. Borges also managed to enrich himself quite handsomely, paying himself at least $350,000 before coincidentally giving Yost a donation of $10,000 on October 15 that year.

Yost’s spokespeople have rightfully pointed out that, “no one asked the Attorney General to stall or slow-walk the House Bill 6 referendum –– not Borges, not Householder and not Householder's chief of staff.” Furthermore, whether or not Borges’ $10,000 check was a bribe, Yost was only briefly interviewed by the FBI in July 2020 and has not been charged with anything. Meanwhile, Borges –– who has pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence in the media–– has been on a desperate rampage, attacking witnesses, law enforcement and U.S. Attorneys involved in the case. Even statehouse reporters have admitted that Borges’ side is convoluted at best and conspiratorial at worst, while Borges has confessed that he is “not even sure” he believes his own story. Luckily in Matt’s case, his record speaks for itself.

After a preliminary injunction hearing on HB 6 on October 2, 2020, Yost said, “It would be foolish for anyone to accept campaign contributions from these defendants –– or, I might add, to engage in private discussions with these defendants or their lobbyists.” It might be time for Yost to listen to his own advice and do what Governor Mike DeWine did with the contributions he received from Borges and the others who have been charged –– or what a few Republican state legislators did with their contributions from Larry Householder –– and donate any HB 6-tainted cash he has received to charity. Obviously, the $10,000 from Borges should be the first to go, but Yost should offload as many others as he can. Then Borges’ assertion that Yost is “chasing headlines” can be met with a headline that’s worthy of chasing.

Liberals and Libertarians alike can point to plenty of decisions Yost has made to dislike, but in an one-party ruled state like Ohio, it’s refreshing to see a Republican stand up to his own kind. “I wanted to send a message that the consequences of political corruption are so high that no one tries this again,” Yost has said. “Corruption has no place in Ohio, and it will be stopped at every turn –– no matter who is involved.” He now has a chance to prove that even further. After all, if Attorney General Yost runs for reelection in 2022 on a campaign of integrity and standing up to corruption –– especially within his own party –– he won’t need that HB 6-tainted money or Borges’ advice to win anyway.

A letter to the editor on this theme by this author was also published in The Dispatch on October 28, 2021.