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Browns naming rights sponsor accused of bribing politicians

Mike Florio and Chris Simms look at what's next for Washington after last week saw the franchise retire its name and logo as well as face disturbing sexual harassment claims from female employees.

Naming rights deals for stadiums are suddenly in the news, with Washington being pressured into a name change, in part by the title sponsor of its building, and the Bills ending their deal with a local apparel company after it laid off over 100 local workers.

Now, the Browns have some questions to answer about FirstEnergy Stadium.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Akron-based FirstEnergy is the company named in a $60 million federal racketeering case, in which bribes were allegedly paid to politicians to secure $1.3 billion in bailouts for local power plants.

FirstEnergy Corp. hasn’t been charged, but those charges could come at a later date. Prosecutors announced charges against Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges, and other lobbyists and aides.

FirstEnergy is paying the Browns $6 million a year, as part of a 17-year, $102 million deal signed in 2013, which puts the name on the building until 2029.

A Browns spokesman said only that the team had a “great partnership” with FirstEnergy, but declined any further comment on the report.

When owner Jimmy Haslam announced the deal in 2013, he hailed the “tremendous relationship” with the longtime sponsor, saying: “Our core values of being the best at everything we do are clearly aligned, and because of their commitment to the City of Cleveland and to all of Northeast Ohio, we felt this would be the perfect partnership.”