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Audit of FirstEnergy's political spending could cost more because of delays

 FirstEnergy building in Akron
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
FirstEnergy building in Akron

The House Bill 6 scandal broke in the summer of 2020.

A few months later in September, state utility regulators opened a case with FirstEnergy’s Ohio-based electric companies to review their political spending and check to see if Ohio Edison, Toledo Edison and Cleveland Electric used ratepayer money on the bribes at the center of the case.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio put a hold on the audit at the request of the U.S. Justice Department, while criminal cases against former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and lobbyist Matt Borges proceeded. It took so long for it to start that now the cost of an audit could increase.

The PUCO selected Houston-based accounting firm Marcum to examine the issue for about $500,000 in 2022.

Those cases wrapped up and the PUCO gave Marcum permission to start the audit in February. But, Marcum wrote in an April letter that their services are now more costly because of increases in inflation, labor costs and tech.

They’re asking the PUCO to let them charge closer to $700,000 for the work. They say they're still giving the agency a discount. The commission hasn't made a decision.

A House bill that would mandate companies report their political spending had a hearing in the house last month.

The bill would ban public utilities from recouping their costs for political expenditures from utility customers, require utility companies to report their political expenditures and fine utility companies that don't follow the rules.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.