Cliff Rosenberger’s reign as Speaker of the Ohio House will be remembered as a throwback to old-school politics: you scratched Rosenberger’s back, he scratched yours. Everyone may have known about it, but it wasn’t until the FBI showed up on Rosenberger’s door that anyone did anything.
What we know doesn’t look good for Rosenberger or the Ohio GOP. First, the only real surprise that an investigation exists is that it took so long. Rosenberger has literally been living in a condo owned by lobbyist Ginni Ragan, a situation that, if legal, is definitely not ethical. Anyone who has a landlord knows pissing them off is a really bad idea, and Ragan seems like the type of lobbyist landlord who would Google how Rosenberger voted or what legislation made it to the floor.
Second, the attempt by House Republicans to pin the payday corruption scandal on Rosenberger failed spectacularly. Right after Rosenberger got the boot, a payday lending reform bill – stalled for over a year – flew out of committee in an apparent attempt to make it look like the former speaker was the sole cause. Since the general members: elect the speaker; vote or have influence on the committee; have easy access to press and could have easily denounced the pay-to-play scheme; and have also received money from payday lenders, no one bought it.
Third, everyone saw through the trick because of the third point: No one trusts Ohio Republicans. No one thinks the GOP is suddenly “shocked” that over $40,000 in travel expenses was enough for lobbyists and wealthy donors to buy Rosenberger. No one believes it’s “coincidence” that ECOT avoided meaningful oversight for almost two decades while founder Bill Lager made it rain over $2 million in campaign contributions to Rosenberger and his pals.
And while we don’t know exactly why the FBI is investigating Rosenberger, it’s gotta be pretty bad — his own party didn’t even attempt a public relations defense. Governor Kasich said he prayed for Rosenberger; Rosenberger’s own protegee, Rep. Ryan Smith, effectively said he wouldn’t have acted that way if he was Speaker; and Attorney General Mike DeWine made a weird phone call urging him to drop out of the race – a suspicious move considering DeWine is Ohio’s top cop.
It’s not like these politicians aren’t used to defending crooked friends. Them bailing on Rosenberger so fast suggests these trips are just the tip of the iceberg.