ComEd proposes $21 million ratepayer refund for lobbying misconduct

ComEd is proposing a one-time $21 million refund to its ratepayers for lobbying misconduct. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
ComEd is proposing a one-time $21 million refund to its ratepayers for lobbying misconduct. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

ComEd proposes $21 million ratepayer refund for lobbying misconduct

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Commonwealth Edison is proposing a one-time $21 million refund to its ratepayers for lobbying misconduct associated with the company’s long-running efforts to woo former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and advance its Springfield agenda.

The offering, part of an inquiry that will need approval by state utility regulators and triggered by the state’s new clean-energy law, would only deliver barely noticeable savings to its 4.1 million customers.

The company has seen its bottom line skyrocket such that one watchdog contends it could be banking as much as $1 billion annually as a result of one 2011 law passed during a nine-year span when its bribery-tainted Springfield lobbying efforts were running at full bore.

The company’s proposed refund includes the costs for pay and benefits awarded to former ComEd executives and a pair of former company lobbyists now charged as part of the July 2020 deferred prosecution agreement ComEd signed with federal investigators.

That agreement enabled the utility to forego criminal charges in exchange for paying a $200 million fine to the federal government and agreeing to cooperate in an ongoing criminal investigation centered in U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office.

“We took this additional step to ensure we are accountable to our customers and hold ourselves to a high standard of integrity as we cooperate with the investigation required by the state’s new clean energy law,” ComEd CEO Gil Quiniones said in a prepared statement.

“We’re committed to maintaining high standards of ethical behavior for our business, our leaders and every employee, and today’s proposal continues to build on the significant new policies, oversight and rigorous employee training we’ve put in place to make sure that the prior conduct can never happen again.”

One leading consumer advocate said the refund proposed by ComEd is a pittance compared to the windfall profits it earned as a result of its corrupt lobbying practices in Springfield.

“It’s a very small amount when you consider the millions of extra profits that ComEd has won through its bribery scheme and the fact that they’ll soon be making a billion dollars of guaranteed profits annually,” said Abe Scarr, director of Illinois PIRG.

“Unfortunately that may be all the way through this investigation because it’s so narrowly construed only for the direct costs associated with perpetrating the bribery scheme and not from the impact of that bribery scheme in the law they passed which has taken so much money unnecessarily from their customers,” Scarr said.

ComEd said its $21.1 million proposed refund includes $14 million for past pay and benefits paid to former CEO Anne Pramaggiore and ex-company executives Fidel Marquez and John Hooker.

Pramaggiore and Hooker are awaiting trial next September on federal corruption charges related to the lobbying scandal, and Marquez has pleaded guilty to a bribery-related conspiracy charge and pledged to cooperate in the ongoing federal criminal investigation.

Another nearly $7 million of the overall refund includes interest on the pay and benefits for those individuals.

Others who have been charged and face trial in September include former ComEd lobbyists Michael McClain, a close Madigan confidant, and Jay Doherty, former head of the City Club of Chicago.

Payments to those individuals were not billed to ratepayers, ComEd said, and thus aren’t included in the company’s refund offer – with the exception of nearly $62,000 in non-lobbying-related payments to McClain that are in the offer.

Pramaggiore, Hooker, McClain and Doherty have pleaded not guilty.

Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.