In stories about former Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s overseas trips and the ongoing FBI investigation that followed, Rep. Nathan Manning often gets quick mention as "the other guy."
The North Ridgeville Republican was in London last August as Rosenberger’s guest, part of a four-day trip sponsored by the GOPAC Education Fund’s Institute for Leadership Development. The trip, which included legislative leaders from a handful of states, met British officials and toured Parliament, along with other sightseeing.
Rosenberger was allowed to bring a guest, so he asked Manning to join him.
A trip that came and went with seemingly little significance suddenly became front-page news in April, when Rosenberger resigned amid an FBI probe into his overseas travel. Recently released search warrants show that federal investigators are looking at possible bribery, extortion and federal Travel Act violations involving Rosenberger’s interactions with a trio of payday lending industry lobbyists.
Rosenberger has denied any wrongdoing.
The London visit was one of 50 out-of-state trips totaling more than 230 days that Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, took since taking over as leader of the House in 2015. For Manning, it was his first trip to Europe.
Manning, a second-term lawmaker and attorney, is not known as one of the movers and shakers in the Statehouse scene. He also had little involvement with the payday lending regulation bill, House Bill 123, other than supporting it as it was passed and signed into law this summer.
But his presence on the London excursion has made him a part of the story and is getting him attention from Democrats as he runs for a northern Ohio Senate seat. Payday industry lobbyists Steve Dimon and Leslie Gaines, whose clients include LoanMax, and Carol Stewart of Advance America, joined the trip.
Stewart also was with Rosenberger on trips to China and France.
Manning declined to comment on what he has told federal investigators about the trip and declined to speak about specifically what took place while he was there. He reportedly has acknowledged meeting payday lobbyists on the trip but did not indicate seeing any lobbying taking place at events that he attended.
"This doesn’t involve me at all, and the most recent public records release showed that my name was not mentioned in anything," Manning said. "This investigation did not involve me whatsoever."
Federal investigations are generally secretive, so the public does not know the full scope of the probe or if a grand jury is close to issuing indictments. A grand jury in this matter has been empaneled in Cincinnati.
That uncertainty leaves open the door open for political opponents.
Senate Democrats have filed a public records request for Manning’s communications and payments related to overseas travel.
If Rosenberger is under investigation, "it follows that Manning has knowledge of the extortion, bribery, and public corruption allegedly committed ..." said Alexis Miller, spokeswoman for the Ohio Senate Democratic caucus. "Ohioans deserve the truth about shady deals made on foreign soil, and it’s time that everyone involved in this culture of corruption is exposed."
Manning, who is facing Democrat Sharon Sweda in November, called the records request a fishing expedition.
"It’s election-year politics at its worst," he said, adding that he is proud of his record. "Obviously they would rather engage in partisan attacks instead of talking about the issues."