The man who led the failed ProEnergy Issue 7 ballot initiative last November — which Columbus leaders called a blatant effort to grab taxpayer funds — was found guilty Monday of filing a false campaign finance record in connection with the petition drive for a similar 2019 initiative.
John A. Clark Jr., led the petition drive to get an initiative put on the Columbus ballot that, if it had passed, would have diverted more than $50 million of city money toward vague green-energy initiatives proposed by a group that would have been in sole control of the funds.
A jury in Franklin County Common Pleas Court on Monday found Clark, 50, of the Near East Side – who also has gone by the last name Clarke – guilty on one count of election falsification, a fifth-degree felony, in connection with the initiative petition drive.
The jury found Clark not guilty on two other charges: a second count of election falsification and one count of tampering with government records,a third-degree felony. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on a second count of tampering with government records.
The charge Clark was found guilty of relates to false information provided on campaign finance reports filed with the city of Columbus' campaign finance office on Aug. 18, 2019. The prosecutor's office previously said the false statements are related to the source and amount of contributions made to the ballot initiative.
Clark and his lawyers declined to comment Monday.
Clark remains free on a recognizance bond pending his sentencing July 7. A fifth-degree felony conviction is punishable by up to six to 12 months in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
The 2019 ballot initiative would have redirected $57 million in city money to proposed green-energy initiatives by ProEnergy Ohio LLC, a limited partnership group led by Clark.
After multiple iterations of the ballot measure getting submitted to the city in the last few years, back-and-fourth with the city council and the courts, a similar initiative that would have redirected $87 million to ProEnergy Ohio made it onto the ballot in 2021. It was soundly defeated.
"These false statements (on the campaign finance reports) hit at the core of our elections and was an attempt to mislead the City of Columbus and its voters," then-Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said in a statement at the time of the indictment.
The prosecutor's office said investigators found that five people listed on the 2019 campaign finance report – one who was listed as contributing $13,000 and the other four listed as contributing $10,000 each – gave nothing at all.
"Either the money didn't exist in the first place or the money came through straw contributions," O'Brien said at the time of the indictment. He said investigators interviewed four of the five donors. "None of these people had that kind of money. The whole thing was a fiction."
Editor's note: This version has been updated to correct the potential sentencing penalty.
Jordan Laird is a criminal justice reporter at the Columbus Dispatch. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter at @LairdWrites.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Man with Columbus energy ballot measure guilty of false campaign report