Four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a long-running federal bribery investigation that increasingly appears focused on Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Former ComEd President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore — who arguably once was Chicago’s most powerful female business executive — and top Madigan adviser Michael McClain were arraigned on charges of bribery conspiracy, bribery and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records.
Also appearing in federal court via video conference to answer those charges were ComEd’s former top in-house lobbyist, John Hooker, and former company lobbyist Jay Doherty, the one-time head of the City Club of Chicago public affairs organization.
Federal investigators charged the group for their roles in allegedly orchestrating a bribery-tainted lobbying effort in Springfield between 2011 and last year that was aimed at influencing Madigan and greasing the legislative skids for the company’s statehouse agenda.
The company successfully landed a series of big legislative victories that led to electricity delivery rate increases for more than 4 million ComEd customers. The utility has admitted in court documents that it funneled consulting payments to a litany of the powerful speaker’s allies for doing little or no work for the state-regulated, public utility giant.
The government’s charges against the group filed last month represented a dramatic new advancement in cases tied to last summer’s $200 million deferred criminal prosecution settlement between ComEd and U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office.
The company acknowledged engaging in the illicit bribery scheme that involved paying about $1.3 million to members of Madigan’s vaunted 13th Ward political organization on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
In exchange for that admission, Lausch’s office agreed to set aside a single bribery charge against the company that will be dismissed in three years so long as ComEd cooperates in the government’s ongoing Springfield corruption investigation and engages in no further criminal wrongdoing.
At Wednesday’s hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber began the proceeding by acknowledging that he served in the Illinois General Assembly at the same time as McClain — albeit as a Republican. Leinenweber said he didn’t associate with the defendant much during that time period, and they haven’t seen each other in the four decades since then.
Leinenweber also said his wife served on the board of Constellation Energy before Exelon and Constellation merged.
“I don’t see any basis, personally, for any problem but I wanted to put that on the record,” he said.
No party to the case raised any issues with Leinenweber’s comments.
McClain and Pramaggiore each face a total of nine criminal counts. Prosecutors charged Hooker and Doherty with six counts. When combined, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of decades in prison if convicted.
Last month’s indictments have sent shock waves through Illinois’ political establishment and have seriously destabilized the granite-like hold on power Madigan has had in Springfield since 1983, when he first assumed the role of speaker.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth — all Democrats — have called on Madigan to relinquish his chairmanship of the state Democratic Party, a role he has held since 1998.
And Madigan’s Republican counterpart, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, called on Madigan to resign from the House.
“All roads lead in this massive and wide-ranging scandal lead to Speaker Madigan,” Durkin said after Wednesday’s arraignment. “Speaker Madigan cannot under any circumstance continue to serve in the House of Representatives as Speaker of the House.”
So far, Madigan has repeatedly said he knew nothing about ComEd’s bribery scheme, which the utility has admitted was intended to influence him. And he’s shown no signs of stepping aside.
But his record-setting hold on the House speakership appears to be nearing an end as 19 House Democrats, so far, have publicly committed against voting for Madigan to serve another two years as speaker. That leaves Madigan at least six votes shy of the 60 he would need next month to continue on in a role that he has held for all but two years out of the past 38.
Durkin said he is appealing to 15 “reform-minded” House Democrats to vote for him for House Speaker as more members of Madigan’s caucus gradually come forward to say they will not be voting for him to remain as speaker after January’s inauguration. He said Republicans will not be supporting a Democrat for speaker.
In the 50-page indictment involving Pramaggiore and the three others, federal prosecutors made clear their belief that Madigan himself — repeatedly identified in court papers as “Public Official A” — played a role in the wrongdoing, though he has not been charged.
“It was further part of the conspiracy that Public Official A and McClain sought to obtain from ComEd jobs, vendor contracts and subcontracts, as well as monetary payments for various associates of Public Official A,” the indictment read.
Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Dan Mihalopoulos is a WBEZ investigative reporter focused on politics. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney, @tonyjarnold and @dmihalopoulos.