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Pritzker Calls On Madigan To Resign If He Can't Explain Role In ComEd Bribery Scheme

Hannah Meisel/NPR Illinois

Gov. JB Pritzker on Thursday called on longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) to resign from his speakership if he could not explain his knowledge of or role in a years-long bribery scheme allegedly orchestrated by lobbyists and officials of electric giant Commonwealth Edison in an attempt to curry favor with Madigan.
More: Key Madigan Ally, ComEd Lobbyists And Official Indicted In Federal Bribery Scheme

Pritzker's comments came the day after U.S. Attorney John Lausch dropped an indictment on longtime Madigan confidante and Commonwealth Edison lobbyist Mike McClain, along with two other longtime ComEd lobbyists and the ex-CEO of ComEd’s parent company.

Before opening up his daily Coronavirus press briefing to questions from reporters, the governor paused, cleared his throat and addressed the elephant in the room.

“The pay to play quid pro quo situation outlined in these indictments released last night are unspeakably wrong," Pritzker said. "Anyone who concludes otherwise is insulting the public.”

Madigan, who earlier in the day defended himself against the allegations in a statement, has not spoken to members of the press since a brief July appearance in Springfield to slate electors for then-presidential nominee Joe Biden. Before that, the speaker last talked with reporters in early February. In late October of last year as federal raids and subpoenas kept leaking, Madigan told reporters: "I'm not the target of anything."

But on Thursday, Pritzker chastised Madigan for issuing statements and dodging appearances in front of an investigative committee looking into the speaker’s role in the federal probe.

“He has to at the very least, be willing to stand in front of the press and the people in the answer every last question to their satisfaction," Pritzker said. "If the speaker cannot commit to that level of transparency, then the time has come for him to resign as speaker.”

Madigan support has been evaporating since July

The Wednesday evening indictment further clarifies a widespread bribery scheme dating back to at least 2011, which was first made public in a deferred prosecution agreement between the feds and ComEd in July.

According to both the deferred prosecution agreement and Wednesday’s indictment, prosecutors allege McClain and the others — including ex-ComEd Vice President Fidel Marquez, who pleaded guilty in September — orchestrated the bribery scheme in order to curry favor with Madigan.

Since the deferred prosecution agreement was made public in July, naming Madigan as "Public Official A," a growing number of House Democratic members have said they would not vote for Madigan — already the longest-serving House Speaker in the nation — for another term in the post. 

Four more members of Madigan's caucus also came forward on Thursday, publicly committing to vote against Madigan if he makes a play for a 19th term as House Speaker when the new General Assembly is inaugurated in January. 

The new defectors bring the number of House Democrats who say they won’t support Madigan to an insurmountable 15, plus one new caucus member who will be seated in January. When the 102nd General Assembly is seated early next year, House Democrats will number 73; Madigan needs 60 to win another term as speaker.

So far, those members include:

Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago)
Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego)
Terra Costa Howard (D-Lombard)
Anne Stava-Murray (D-Naperville)
Maurice West (D-Rockford)
Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (D-Glenview)
Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago)
Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield)
Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park)
Ann Williams (D-Chicago)
Anna Moeller (D-Elgin)
Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston)
Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago)
Jonathan Carroll (D-Northbrook)
Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake)
State Rep.-Elect Margaret Croke (D-Chicago)

In his statement, Guzzardi, a founder of the House Progressive Caucus, said Illinois "is at a crossroads," facing unprecedented crisis including the COVID-19 pandemic and a deep state budget hole made worse by the failure of Pritzker's signature graduated income tax proposal in the Nov. 3 Election.

"[The crises] are compounded by Illinoisans’ lack of faith in our government to lead our state fairly and ethically," Guzzardi said. "The charges announced last night only confirm what we already knew: the old ways of doing business in Springfield will not be adequate to rise to our present challenges. We will need new, transformative leadership to meet this moment."

Guzzardi, Carroll and Yingling made their positions known on Thursday morning. Croke issued a statement Thursday afternoon. Conroy, Williams, Moeller and Gabel recently sent Madigan a letter asking him not to run again. On Thursday, the four clarified they would not vote for Madigan as speaker in January.

Kifowit last month announced she would challenge Madigan for the speaker’s gavel, but she has not garnered much public support from any of her House colleagues.

Madigan on defense

Madigan on Thursday morning issued a lengthy and defiant statement, repeating much of what he wrote in a September letter to members of a Special Investigative Committee initiated by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), which is meant to look into any potential wrongdoing by Madigan in connection with the ComEd bribery scheme.

Madigan declined to appear in front of the committee, and so far the body has only held one substantive hearing, during which ComEd’s compliance officer was grilled for hours, revealing few new insights into the investigation.

The Speaker again Thursday defended himself, characterizing the indictment as no smoking gun pointing back to him, and claiming that if he had known about any attempts by ComEd or its lobbyists to influence him, he “would have made every effort to put a stop to it.”

“After a lengthy investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged, but of course has not proven, that certain ComEd employees, consultants, and lobbyists allegedly conspired with one another in the hope of somehow influencing me in my official capacity,” Madigan wrote. “Let me be clear: if that attempt ever happened, it was never made known to me. If it had been known to me, it would have been profoundly unwelcome. Nothing in either this indictment or in the earlier filings by the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges otherwise.”

The Speaker did not address his defectors, but did direct words to his detractors.

“I anticipate some will be disappointed that I was not a party to this indictment and find it difficult to swallow the fact that I have not been accused of or charged with any wrongdoing,” Madigan wrote. “These same individuals will likely claim this indictment should end my tenure as a public official, even though it alleges no criminal conduct on my part, nor does it allege I had knowledge of any criminal conduct by others."

Investigative committee on hiatus

Also on Thursday, Republican members of the Special Investigative Committee, along with Durkin, once again decried the committee's chair, State Rep. Chris Welch (D-Hillside), for delaying further hearings until after the Nov. 3 election, and promptly canceling a scheduled hearing for Nov. 5.

State Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville), who lost his re-election bid even after centering his campaign on his fight against Madigan's purported corruption, compared Madigan to President Donald Trump, who is refusing to concede the presidential election. Wehrli said it was "time for both Trump and Madigan to sail off into the sunset."

“Instead of Donald Trump going kicking and screaming — much like we see Speaker Madigan right now — he’s going to nauseating lengths to maintain his power," Wehrli said. "Michael J. Madigan and Donald Trump seem to be cut from the same cloth in that regard.”

But in a statement, Welch along with other Democratic committee members reps. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero) and Natalie Manley (D-Joliet) characterized the GOP calls for reorganizing the committee before it receives requested documents from ComEd as "nothing more than political theater."

“The federal prosecutor’s indictments against former ComEd associates elaborate on the company’s pattern of behavior as was previously detailed in the deferred prosecution agreement," the trio said in their statement. "They do not, however, give members of this committee carte blanche to substitute partisan grandstanding for deliberate consideration."

Hannah covers state government and politics for Capitol News Illinois. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at WILL-AM/FM, Law360, Capitol Fax and The Daily Line before returning to NPR Illinois in 2020 and moving to CNI in 2023.
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