Ohio’s Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger (R) abruptly resigned yesterday after learning that the FBI was investigating him for abusing the perks of his office, taking excessive trips, living in a condo owned by a lobbyist, and taking favors from the payday lending industry while they are busy pushing to get a bill passed by the state legislature.
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The first Asian-American to ever serve as Speaker, and one of the youngest at age 37, the Republican known for his charm and gregarious personality was scheduled to leave office at the end of this year due to term limits.
Rosenberger told The Columbus Dispatch that all of his actions have been “ethical and lawful,” but that he wants to focus on responding to the investigation which could take months “or even years.”
Rosenberger said he didn’t want to be a distraction from the important work ahead of the legislature, or he might have added, from the Republican efforts in the upcoming race to replace Gov. John Kasich.
“I have a problem when my honor and integrity gets questioned,” said Rosenberger. “I’m going to defend my honor and integrity.”
Kasich said he was “sorry to hear the news” but respected Rosenberger for “making a decision that he believes is right for our state….for which he cares deeply.”
Mary Taylor, Kasich’s lieutenant governor, who is running as a Republican candidate for governor, was not nearly as kind to Rosenberger: “This is what the Swamp looks like. And this is what I am going to erase in state government.”
While Rosenberger declares he is innocent and says he has never been contacted directly by the FBI, his claim that he is resigning because it is best for the government and the people of Ohio didn’t ring true with Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper.
“Generally,” said Pepper, “innocent people don’t resign within days of a revelation of a federal investigation.”
Pepper also cried foul over a call Rosenberger got on Friday night from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine – another Republican candidate for governor – telling the Speaker to quit if he was guilty of anything.
Pepper said that it “raises questions about whether it was appropriate for a law enforcement official to contact someone under federal investigation.”
Rosenberger’s trips that have drawn FBI scrutiny include jaunts to England, France, Italy, and Israel that were paid for by outside groups. A trip last August to London was paid for by GOPAC, a Republican-supported group that backs state legislative candidates. Two individuals also on the trip were lobbyists for payday lenders, according to photos posted on Facebook.
There is currently a bill in the Ohio legislature to crack down on payday lenders that the industry strongly opposes.
“The FBI is also said to be probing Rosenberger’s living arrangements in Columbus, where he rents a condo owned by Republican mega-donor Ginni Ragan,” reports The Dayton Daily News.
Ragan is an advocate for the elderly and one of the largest contributors to Republicans.
“Ragan has contributed almost $50,000 to Rosenberger’s campaign accounts over the years,” added the Dayton newspaper, “and she was a sponsor of a trip to Normandy that Rosenberger took with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).”
Ragan is well known in Ohio.
The same cozy donor that Cliff Rosenberger is under investigation for being involved with, Ginni Ragan, also bankrolled my opponent Steve Arndt $25,000 since 2016.https://t.co/H7YKtHQuo4 pic.twitter.com/fOlbmA0Bum
— Joe Helle (@JoeHelle) April 10, 2018
Rosenberger plans to leave office on May 1st, although there are calls for him to drop out immediately. After that, there isn’t much for the Speaker to do. The Ohio lawmakers start a summer break around Memorial Day and probably won’t return until the November election.
The Republican Party is deathly afraid that being tied to a scandal in a year when they already face a possible Democratic popular wave because of Trump could be devastating so they want to separate from Rosenberger as quickly as possible.
The reality is that once again the Republicans, the party of big business, the super-rich, and wealthy campaign donors, has been tainted by the easy money thrown at lawmakers with open hands and questionable ethics.