A special Illinois House committee’s hearings next week on the Springfield bribery scandal should begin with testimony from executives of Commonwealth Edison, the company at the center of the federal corruption probe, WBEZ has learned.
In a letter Thursday to the Democratic lawmaker heading the legislative inquiry, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said he or his lawyer, the former federal prosecutor Ron Safer, “will be questioning” the ComEd executives at the special panel’s meeting on Tuesday.
The House GOP pushed for the special committee’s inquiry after ComEd admitted in federal court in July that it engaged in an eight-year bribery scheme. According to court records, the company paid politically connected consultants who did little or no work in order to win favor with “Public Official A” – a clear reference to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Madigan has not been charged and denies wrongdoing, but his aides say he has recused himself from the special committee. State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, is the chairman of the six-member panel, which also includes two other Democratic lawmakers and three Republicans.
Since the formation of the panel, Democrats and Republicans on the committee have gone back and forth over who should be allowed to testify – and what kind of questions they can answer – in light of the ongoing federal criminal probe. The hearings could reveal potentially embarrassing information about Madigan, who is also the state’s Democratic Party Chair, just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.
Durkin told Welch he “will be presenting an opening statement” at the committee meeting Tuesday, and he added that “a representative” of ComEd has confirmed the company’s executives will appear at the session to testify.
ComEd CEO Joe Dominguez and other executives from the power company – which serves 4 million homes and businesses across northern Illinois – already have testified and taken questions about the scandal at the state board that regulates utilities and at the Chicago City Council.
ComEd executives have said they are cooperating with the ongoing federal probe, and there are signs that the company’s former chief in-house lobbyist also is providing help to the government after he was charged earlier this month.
Welch did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday morning.
ComEd responded to WBEZ’s request with a one-sentence statement later Thursday morning.
“ComEd has pledged to respect the legislative process that has been initiated and accepted the invitation to provide testimony at the hearing next week,” utility spokesman Paul Elsberg wrote in an email.
In addition to employees of ComEd, the Republican members of the committee have sought the voluntary testimony of a long list of figures in the federal corruption case. That group includes Madigan; the speaker’s longtime friend and former ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain; former City Club of Chicago CEO Jay Doherty; former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski; and past ComEd executives, including ex-CEO Anne Pramaggiore. No potential witnesses have been subpoenaed by the committee.
Welch gave them until the end of the workday on Friday to respond to the GOP’s requests that they testify.
The committee members also have sought text messages, emails and other documents related to the corruption case from the same individuals.
Ultimately, the committee will determine if there are grounds to discipline Madigan, who has been a dominant figure in the Illinois General Assembly for nearly four decades.
But for now, that still seems to be a political longshot.
For the committee to make any big moves, including subpoenaing witnesses or recommending charges against the speaker, a majority vote is required. Given the panel is evenly split by party, that means all tie votes favor Madigan.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter for WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Tony Arnold covers state politics.