In his first public comments since Commonwealth Edison admitted a Springfield bribery scheme, CEO Joe Dominguez said Wednesday he was sorry for the power company’s conduct – but quickly added that he did not think the public suffered as a result of the scandal.
“I wanted to apologize on behalf of the entire company,” Dominguez told officials at a meeting of the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates ComEd and other public utilities in the state.
Dominguez quickly pivoted from that mea culpa to show the limits of his contrition. He focused largely on defending the company’s overall performance as excellent – and protecting the legislative gains ComEd achieved during the eight-year-long bribery scheme.
On July 17, federal prosecutors announced a deal with ComEd that ended a corruption probe into the company. The company admitted it had perpetrated an eight-year-long effort to win influence with “Public Official A” – a clear reference to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, the state Democratic boss from Chicago.
Although Madigan has not been charged and denies wrongdoing, court records in the ComEd case note the giant electric company won two major legislative victories in Springfield in 2011 and 2016.
Those lucrative laws were passed during the time ComEd admits it funneled more than $1.3 million to politically connected consultants who did little or no work. The payments were designed to win favor with Madigan, according to court records in the case.
In an effort to add what he said was “context” for his company’s state regulators, Dominguez told the ICC that the “deferred prosecution agreement,” or DPA, with the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago “is not a criminal conviction of ComEd” and that “a few orchestrated the improper conduct” but most employees do a superb job.
Dominguez also said the state laws mentioned in the deal with federal law enforcement authorities actually had benefited the people of Illinois, even though lawmakers locked in electricity delivery rate hikes.
“Nowhere in the DPA is there any allegation or inference that [the 2011 law] was bad policy or that ComEd’s investments did not produce value to customers,” Dominguez said.
And Dominguez said the $200 million fine that ComEd promised to pay to settle the government’s case ultimately would come from the company’s profits – and not from the roughly 4 million homes and businesses that are its customers across northern Illinois.
But that vow carried no weight with lawyer Stephan Blandin, who filed a class-action suit after the criminal case was unsealed.
“The profits come from the rate-payers,” Blandin said after the meeting in downtown Chicago.
According to ICC records, ComEd’s revenues from delivery electricity grew more than 30 percent during the time of the bribery scheme, and the company’s state-approved profits spiked by more than 50 percent since the first of the two laws got approved, for a take of nearly $740 million in 2019.
Court records suggested that the benefit reaped by ComEd from the scheme had surpassed $150 million. Blandin said the true amount reaped by the power company thanks to corruption could far exceed that figure – and should be refunded to the customers.
Blandin added that the meeting showed the ICC did not regulate ComEd as aggressively as it should.
Leading Wednesday’s meeting was the head of the ICC, Carrie Zalewski, who declined to recuse herself even though her father-in-law, former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski, is a key figure in the scandal. He benefited under a consulting deal made to please Madigan, according to court records and a source close to the investigation.
Carrie Zalewski said she has done nothing wrong and “took umbrage” because another commissioner, Republican appointee Sadzi Martha Oliva, had suggested she should recuse herself from any role in topics concerning ComEd.
“I have not done anything wrong,” Zalewski said, adding that it was “disingenuous and irresponsible” to suggest otherwise.
Oliva said the ICC should investigate “the specifics of the impact [ComEd’s] conduct has had on taxpayers” and the federal corruption case may have created a perceived conflict for Zalewski.
“Rate-payers are looking to the commission to have effective and transparent oversight over ComEd,” Oliva said. “Holding this hearing in this manner is not good for the integrity of the commission, while attempting to restore the trust of the rate-payers.”
Zalewski was appointed last year by Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, after Madigan repeatedly recommended her for the $136,800-a-year post.
She asked several questions of the ComEd executives at the meeting Wednesday, including one about what she called “the costs of unethical practices” described in the company’s agreement with the feds. After the session, Zalewski declined to answer when asked by a WBEZ reporter whether federal authorities had contacted her.
Her husband, state Rep. Michael J. Zalewski, D-Riverside, has spent nearly $75,000 on lawyers since news of the investigation broke a year ago, state campaign-finance records show. He also would not say whether federal authorities had contacted him.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.