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Who's Wearing the White Hat in Ohio's GOP Statehouse Battles?

Photo of an empty House chamber
With no speaker, Republicans have cancelled multiple sessions, including those set to deal with a bill curbing payday lenders.

Accusations are flying at the State Capitol as the Ohio House continues in chaos without a speaker. The lawmaker considered to be the frontrunner says his rivals, such as the payday-lending industry, are delaying a vote. But as Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, a top lending association is mounting its own, major accusation.

The chaos within the Ohio House Republican caucus continues to build.

As more time passes without a vote for a new House speaker, leaders and lobbyists are making their issues more public.

'He's the one that brought all these tactics back. There's no use in sugar-coating this.'

Republican Rep. Ryan Smith, in an impassioned meeting with reporters, pointed the blame squarely at his opponent for speaker next year, fellow Republican Rep. and former House Speaker Larry Householder.

“He’s the one that brought all these tactics back. We saw it before when he was here and he’s right back here doing the same thing. There’s no use in sugar-coating this, there’s no use in trying to walk around the issue; it’s very much him.”

Smith wants to replace former Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, whose home was raidedthis week by the FBI. The feds are reportedly interested in Rosenberger’s international travel paid for by the payday-lending industry. Householder is not running for the short-term speaker position, but Smith says he has a proxy candidate in the race.

ECOT's role
Smith also mentioned ECOT Founder Bill Lager and the pro-ECOT blog “3rd Rail Politics” as disrupters in the race, along with the payday-lending industry.

“I think nefarious people such as that are absolutely behind a lot of things. I mean the best that they can have happen is that we don’t come back and we can’t pass that bill.”

He’s talking about a tough crackdown that includes an interest rate cap for short-term loans at 28 percent.

'Unless I have been trained in Russian mental telepathy, I don't know how in the world I have convinced all these people not to vote for Ryan Smith.'

Lobbyist influence
Smith was asked if Neil Clark, a lobbyist for payday lending, was included with that group, and responded yes. Clark adamantly refutes that claim.

“I haven’t made a single phone call to any member and unless I have been trained in Russian mental telepathy, I don’t know how in the world I have convinced all these people not to vote for Ryan Smith.”

Clark says the lending industry can be split in two groups; those who are against any changes to payday lending and those who are for moderate reforms. Clark says his group, the Ohio Consumer Lenders Association, is the latter.

“So to isolate me and make me look like I’m an anti-reformer is repugnant.”

A letter and a debate over who wanted compromise
In light of Smith’s claims, a letter from the Ohio Consumer Lenders Association, dated earlier this month, has surfaced. The group claims that it was Rosenberger who made threats and tried to strong arm Clark and his people into ending the work they were doing toward some sort of compromise.

But Republican Rep. Kyle Koehler, the sponsor of the payday overhaul legislation, says any work on a different reform bill is news to him.

“They never talked to me about that language and I never knew that existed. If that’s the case, I’d like to see that language.”

'You'd have to actually be willing to talk to the person who's sponsoring the bill and actually give him proposals.'

I asked Koehler if he thought it was fair for Clark to describe his group as pro-reform.

“You’d have to actually want to reform the law. And talk to the bill sponsor who actually wrote language to reform payday lending if that was the case. You’d have to actually be willing to talk to the person who’s sponsoring the bill and actually give him proposals.”

The letter accuses Rosenberger of trying to tank the bill to help anti-reform lobbyists. Clark says that’s the payday lending company known as Select Management Resources, the parent company to LoanMax. Reports say the FBI is looking into Rosenberger’s international travel with lobbyists from Select Management Resources.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.