When Springfield insider Michael McClain announced his retirement nearly three years ago, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan broke his usual silence to praise McClain publicly for his “complete honesty and integrity.”
McClain stopped registering as a lobbyist in the Illinois Capitol and informed state officials he was retiring from being a lawyer.
But an investigation by the Better Government Association and WBEZ found McClain continued to get paid for years after that by what had been a longtime lobbying client: Commonwealth Edison.
The giant electric utility reported shelling out $361,000 to McClain for “legal services” in the two years after his retirement in December 2016, even though he is no longer authorized to practice law in Illinois, records show.
McClain got $150,000 in 2017 and $211,000 last year from ComEd, according to financial reports the utility filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
The revelations come to light amid an ongoing federal investigation that saw FBI agents raid McClain’s home in downstate Quincy earlier this year. WBEZ has reported authorities are probing allegations that ComEd hired multiple politically connected consultants — some with ties to Madigan — in exchange for favorable actions in Springfield, including electricity rate increases.
The federal raid at McClain’s home came on the same day that agents also visited at least three others with close ties to Madigan or ComEd. Those raids included agents searching the City Club of Chicago, a nonprofit civic group whose president, Jay Doherty, lobbied for ComEd for nearly a decade.
And on Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that authorities have secretly recorded phone conversations involving McClain, taking advantage of a wiretap on his cell phone.
ComEd spokeswoman Jean Medina said this week McClain stopped working for the company in May. That was when the federal raid occurred at McClain’s home.
And Medina said ComEd executives believe the payments to McClain in 2017 and 2018 were “mislabeled” as being for legal services when the utility made its filings to state regulators.
“These amounts were for political consulting services,” Medina said. “Those payments were neither for lobbying nor legal work.”
Medina would not describe exactly what political consulting services McClain performed for the utility since his retirement, nor would she say why he resumed working for ComEd soon after retiring.
Medina noted that the payments to McClain “were correctly categorized as consulting services” in other documents ComEd filed with the state.
ComEd is not yet required to file similar disclosures of what it has spent on outside contractors this year. Medina would not say how much McClain was paid in 2019 before he again stopped working for the company in the spring.
For decades, McClain served as a loyal confidant and ally to Madigan, the head of the state’s Democratic Party and Illinois’ most powerful politician.
McClain, 72, did not return phone and email messages and did not respond to an interview request left at the high-rise condo he owns in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.
In July, when the BGA and WBEZ were the first to report on the feds’ interest in McClain, he made his only public comment on the matter: “There’s nothing against the law about asking for a job.”
Nobody has been charged in the ongoing federal investigation. A spokesman for John Lausch — the U.S. attorney whose office in Chicago is heading the probe — declined to comment this week.
McClain and Madigan’s ties date back to the earliest years of their careers in Springfield.
Together with Madigan, McClain had been a Democratic state representative in the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1981, Madigan was the House minority leader and picked McClain to be assistant minority leader.
Although Madigan aided his re-election bid, McClain lost his seat in a district in western Illinois in the 1982 election, in a rare setback for a Madigan ally.
Despite losing McClain’s seat, the Democrats took control of the House, and Madigan went on to become the longest-serving state House speaker in the country’s history.
McClain, meanwhile, formed his own law firm with the woman who is now his wife in 1983, state records show. He represented ComEd and many other big clients in Springfield for about 30 years.
‘An outstanding career’
McClain was part of the inner circle of the famously reclusive Madigan, even as he sought to win support from his friend and other elected officials for legislation that positively affected ComEd’s fortunes.
The speaker’s spokesman, Steve Brown, did not respond to email and phone messages this week about McClain.
Madigan recently told reporters in Springfield, “I’m not a target of anything.”
Veteran Springfield journalist Rich Miller, who revealed McClain’s retirement plans in 2016, described him as a “vitally important sounding board and strategist for the speaker.”
“He’s never been afraid to clash head-on with other members of Madigan’s inner circle when he’s believed they’ve given his guy the wrong advice,” Miller wrote at the time of the retirement announcement, also highlighting McClain’s role in Madigan’s political strategy sessions.
In 2016, McClain told the Quincy Herald-Whig that he had delayed his retirement for a year to win approval of a bill that provided subsidies to Exelon for its nuclear power plants in Illinois. During that time, Madigan was locked in a bitter stalemate with then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican.
“Then we had the Exelon bill come up, and my friend Mike Madigan was facing some tough times, and so [the retirement] kind of got put on hold,” the newspaper quoted McClain as saying.
According to the Quincy newspaper article on McClain’s retirement, Madigan said McClain “had an outstanding career as a legislator and a lobbyist, operating with complete honesty and integrity.”
McClain was never registered as a lobbyist again after 2016.
McClain’s law license became “inactive” on Dec. 30, 2016 and he retired from practicing law on Jan. 9, 2017. He has not reinstated his attorney’s license since then, according to the state’s attorney-registration agency.
In November 2017, McClain and his wife informed the Illinois Secretary of State’s office that they had dissolved the law firm they formed 34 years earlier. His wife had also told the state she retired as a lawyer on same day McClain did.
McClain’s work with former Chicago alderman
State lobbyist disclosure reports show McClain also lobbied in the past with two other men who have attracted the attention of federal investigators or have long-standing connections to ComEd.
McClain’s firm, Quincy-based Awerkamp & McClain, hired The Z Consulting Group for lobbying work in 2006 and 2012, records show. Z Consulting is led by now-retired Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski.
Neither McClain nor Zalewski disclosed which of McClain’s clients Zalewski was hired to lobby for in 2006 or 2012, according to state records. McClain represented more than a dozen clients in those years, among them ComEd.
The FBI raided Zalewski’s home on the Southwest Side on the same day agents served a search warrant at McClain’s house. Part of the probe centers on efforts to get work for Zalewski at ComEd and the interactions between Madigan, Zalewski and McClain, three sources familiar with the federal investigation told the BGA and WBEZ last summer.
Zalewski also was named in a July 30 federal subpoena sent to the village of Schiller Park, where he had a $5,000-a-month lobbying deal.
He retired as alderman of the 23rd Ward on the Southwest Side in 2018. His lawyer, Thomas Breen, has said Zalewski did nothing wrong.
McClain’s firm also contracted from 2014 through 2016 with John Hooker, a former ComEd executive-turned-lobbyist. Hooker was ComEd’s executive vice president of legislative and external affairs when he retired in 2012 after 44 years with the company. He reported that he lobbied for ComEd and Exelon under McClain’s firm.
After working with McClain, Hooker lobbied for ComEd under a deal with the lobbying firm of Michael Kasper, a top legal aide to Madigan and the state Democratic Party. But last month, Kasper’s firm notified state officials that it had ended its relationship with Hooker.
Hooker did not respond to email or phone messages this week.
Two grand jury subpoenas
As the investigation intensified in October, Anne Pramaggiore — who was CEO of ComEd from 2012 to 2018 — stepped down from her lucrative job as a top executive of ComEd’s parent company, Exelon.
ComEd and Exelon have reported receiving two grand jury subpoenas from federal prosecutors this year, and executives say they are cooperating fully with the probe.
The companies say one subpoena sought records about their lobbying in Illinois. The second subpoena was received on Oct. 2, when the feds asked for all of their communications with “certain individuals and entities.”
The only name in the second subpoena that the utility has revealed was Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval of Chicago. Agents raided Sandoval’s offices in September, seeking documents about ComEd and Exelon officials and about legislation favoring the power companies.
Exelon also revealed last month that both it and ComEd are the subject of another federal investigation into their Illinois lobbying activities — this one by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Chuck Neubauer is a special contributor for the Better Government Association. Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter for WBEZ, and Data Editor Elliott Ramos contributed.
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, ComEd is a WBEZ underwriter.