Ohio House speaker to resign amid FBI probe

Ohio House speaker to resign amid FBI probe
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Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R) will resign his office as the FBI investigates lavish spending on housing and travel during his time in office.

Rosenberger, who represents a southern Ohio district, said last week he had hired an attorney after becoming aware the FBI was asking questions about him. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Subsequent reports in The Columbus Dispatch, The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Dayton Daily News have revealed federal officials are looking into foreign trips paid for by several outside groups. The trips — to England, France, Italy and Israel — have drawn scrutiny because they may have been funded by payday lending firms that had business before the legislature.

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One trip under scrutiny was an August journey to London, paid for by GOPAC, a Republican-led group that backs state legislative candidates. Two lobbyists for the payday lending firm LoanMax joined the trip, according to Facebook photos reported by the Enquirer.

A measure cracking down on payday lending agencies is expected to advance through a state House committee on Wednesday, before heading to the House floor later this session.

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. Ragan has contributed almost $50,000 to Rosenberger’s campaign accounts over the years, and she was a sponsor of a trip to Normandy that Rosenberger took with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Jessica Curtis, GOPAC’s executive director, said Rosenberger had participated in programs through the group’s Education Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization that paid for the London trip. She declined to say whether GOPAC had been contacted by the FBI in recent weeks. A spokesman for the NCSL did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

In a statement, Rosenberger said he would step down May 1.

“As I have said previously, I am aware of a federal inquiry being conducted regarding things I may have been involved in. First and foremost, I believe that all of my actions as Speaker have been both ethical and lawful,” Rosenberger said. “However, I understand that the nature of this inquiry has the potential to be very demanding and intensive, and could take months or even years to resolve.”

“Meanwhile, there are many important issues facing our state that deserve careful consideration and review, and Ohioans deserve elected leaders who are able to devote their full and undivided attention to these matters. I believe the institution of the Ohio House of Representatives is far more important than one person,” he said.

Rosenberger said he had not faced calls to resign yet, but state Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) — who is running for governor — told the Dayton Daily News he told Rosenberger the Speaker should quit if he had done anything wrong.

Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper on Wednesday called for Rosenberger to resign immediately. Pepper said the payday lending bill moving through the House is evidence of a “cloud of corruption over Columbus.” 

A spokesman in the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rosenberger has served in the state House since 2011. He assumed the Speakership in 2015, as both the youngest state House leader in Ohio history and the first Asian-American to serve in the post. He faced term limits at the end of 2018, and an intense battle to succeed him is already underway.