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Madigan Shielded From Answering To Role In ComEd Bribery Scheme As Allies Halt Investigation

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan standing on House floor arms folded

Democratic allies of House Speaker Mike Madigan on Monday ended an inquiry into whether the speaker did anything that should disqualify him from serving in the legislature.

Members of a “Special Investigative Committee” formed at the behest of Republicans deadlocked on whether to bring charges against Madigan related to a federal probe into a bribery scheme orchestrated by lobbyists for utility Commonwealth Edison to curry favor with the Speaker.

Monday’s hearing was the third of only three meetings since the committee was formed in August. Republicans again attempted to subpoena Madigan, along with others who declined to appear in front of the committee. But the panel deadlocked on that point, and ended with both accusing each other of political stunts.

Republican State Rep. Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) told off his Democratic colleagues.

“You all should be embarrassed," Wehrli told his colleagues Monday. "We should all be questioning why you’re going to these lengths to do this. Hopefully the press will hound you day and night to find out exactly what you’re getting in exchange for the stonewalling of this investigation.”

Wehrli last month lost to a Madigan-backed Democratic House candidate, even as Wehrli focused much of his campaign tying his oppoment to the weakened Speaker.

State Rep. Chris Welch (D-Hillside) met Republican accusations of a “sham” process with his own allegation.

“Talking about a kangaroo court? The Republicans on this committee had their minds made up before that petition was ever filed…that Mike Madigan was guilty," Welch said. "That’s not a fair process like this process should be. The kangaroo court was instigated by you!”

The committee’s efforts are now effectively dead, but Madigan’ isn’t out of hot water; 19 of his Democratic colleagues have publicly pledged to vote for someone else as House speaker in January.

But as long as Madigan isn’t backing down, it could set up a stalemate in which the legislature could not conduct any business until a new speaker is chosen.

In a trove of emails released to the committee before Thanksgiving, Madigan confidante Mike McClaim, a longtime ComEd lobbyist attempted to pair some Republicans tied to House Minority Leader Jim Durkin with work for the utility. But a vast majority of the emails pertained to efforts on behalf of Madigan to line up jobs and contracts for allies for the speaker.

Even so, in a statement Monday, Madigan attempted to embarrass Durkin, who called for the committee to be formed in August.

"Jim Durkin insisted on initiating this political theater, and through this process we’ve come to learn that he was involved in the very conduct he claims to be so offended by — recommending people for various jobs," Madigan said. “If Jim Durkin actually believes it is conduct unbecoming of a legislator to recommend people for jobs or help constituents, he might want to review his own hypocritical behavior. Rather than finger-pointing, I suggest we focus on the important work that lies ahead of us."

In his own statement, Durkin dared Gov. JB Pritzker to demand Madigan resign from his speakership. In recent weeks, Pritzker has said Madigan should resign if he can't answer questions about his knowledge of or involvement in the bribery scheme.

“The Democratic Party shows again today there is no limit to the lengths they will go to protect Speaker Madigan,” Durkin said. “I call on Gov. Pritzker to finally demand Speaker Madigan resign as it is clear he refuses to answer any questions about his corrupt practices.”

The breadth of the scheme was revealed this summer when U.S. Attorney John Lausch revealed a deferred prosecution agreement for ComEd in which the company agreed to pay $200 million in exchange for a promise the charges will be dropped if ComEd cooperates in the investigation.

The filing outlined a nine-year effort by ComEd to give jobs and contracts to Madigan allies in hopes the company's legislative priorities would see their way through Springfield. In the filing, Madigan is referred to as "Public Official A."

Madigan has not been charged, but ComEd has admitted to engaging in the scheme. One former ComEd official pleaded guilty earlier this fall and another four individuals related to ComEd — including a longtime confidant of Madigan — were indicted last month. They've pleaded not guilty.

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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