Documents provided by Commonwealth Edison revealed Wednesday that Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan – who also co-owns one of Chicago’s biggest property-tax appeal firms – appeared to show repeated interest in who was doing “property tax work” for the largest utility in Illinois.
And the documents also disclosed for the first time that the power company secretly paid a $4,500 monthly consulting fee to Democratic Cook County Recorder of Deeds Ed Moody, a key Madigan ally and veteran precinct captain from the speaker’s home ward on the Southwest Side of Chicago.
Those payments to Moody were filtered through two ex-ComEd lobbyists who were charged in a federal bribery indictment last week, according to the newly released emails.
The disclosures came from a Thanksgiving eve document drop by the company in response to a request from an Illinois House committee investigating possible misconduct by the speaker in ComEd’s bribery-tainted Springfield lobbying efforts.
In July, the utility copped to operating a long-running bribery scheme in order to influence Madigan, who is one of the state’s most powerful politicians. Federal prosecutors say ComEd hired Madigan’s political allies in order to win favorable legislation in Springfield – including electricity rate hikes. The feds allege those payments were arranged by top ComEd executives and lobbyists, and funneled to subcontractors who often performed little or no actual work.
Both developments broaden what is known about the indirect but ethically questionable interactions between Madigan and ComEd at a time when the utility had major legislative business pending at the statehouse that depended on the House speaker’s blessing.
ComEd released the trove of emails to the committee just hours before the start of the Thanksgiving holiday – a traditional tactic for trying to bury negative news stories. The revelations are significant because they arise in email conversations between Madigan’s long-time friend and confidante, Michael McClain, who once lobbied for ComEd, and the utility’s former top in-house lobbyist, Fidel Marquez.
Marquez pleaded guilty in September to playing a role in the political bribery scheme, and McClain was among four former ComEd executives and lobbyists who faced similar charges in a sweeping federal corruption indictment issued last week.
In a July 2014 email titled “ComEd Representation,” an unnamed Exelon official addresses “a communications issue” with an unidentified law firm that appeared to get resolved, with the company official indicating that Exelon looked “forward to working with you and your father.”
Marquez then forwards the email to McClain, who responds, “I will let our friend know.”
The feds say McClain frequently referred to Madigan as “our Friend” in other emails in order to avoid using the speaker’s name in writing.
ComEd blocked the identities of the Exelon official and law firms in the documents it turned over Wednesday to the House Special Investigating Committee in charge of the Madigan disciplinary inquiry.
In a June 2014 exchange, McClain wrote Marquez with an opaque question that again appeared to deal with property tax issues involving ComEd.
“Our Friend called,” McClain said.
He then said a former congressman, whose name was redacted by ComEd in the newly-released records, “was concerned about representing us in his usual property tax matters” and asked Marquez to inquire about the issue.
Marquez agreed and asked what motivated Madigan’s unspecified concern.
“Our Friend did not know but presumed someone was trying to hustle one of ‘his’ accounts,” McClain responded.
The full exchange as reflected in the email poses more questions than it answers. It’s not clear who the unidentified ex-congressman is or what precisely McClain was referring to when he apparently quoted Madigan speculating someone – possibly the ex-congressman – was “trying to hustle one of ‘his’ accounts.’”
But what is clear is that, according to McClain, Madigan had an interest in ComEd’s property tax obligations, which conceivably dovetails off the specialty of the speaker’s law firm.
Madigan has not been charged with criminal wrongdoing.
A spokeswoman did not immediately answer WBEZ questions about the speaker’s apparent interest in property tax matters pertaining to ComEd, Moody’s secret contract, or the broader batch of records the company released Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Moody’s deal with ComEd surfaced for the first time in the newly released records.
Even from his perch as appointed Cook County recorder of deeds, the office that keeps track of all of the county’s land transactions, Moody is not a household political name. But he is an important player in Madigan’s Democratic political organization, after many years as one of the speaker’s top precinct captains from the 13th Ward.
Moody’s payments from ComEd also involved former City Club President Jay Doherty, who was charged last week for acting as the utility’s pass-through for consulting payments to Madigan insiders who actually did little or no work.
In a June 2013 email between McClain and then-ComEd President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore, with the subject line “Ed Moody,” McClain asked if the company would consider “moving Ed off my contract and onto Jay Dougherty’s (sic) or someone else’s?”
In February 2014, an unidentified power company official wrote to Doherty, who was also a former ComEd lobbyist, and appeared to act on McClain’s earlier request, noting how much Moody was to be paid.
“See attached contact info for Ed Moody ($4,500 per month). I finally got a hold (sic) of him today and told him he needs to reach out to you all,” the author, whose name was redacted by ComEd, wrote to Doherty.
Last week, federal prosecutors charged Doherty, Pramaggiore, McClain and another ComEd lobbyist, John Hooker, for their alleged role in the long-running bribery scheme.
All four defendants who were indicted last week have denied wrongdoing, though they have not yet appeared in front of a judge to enter a formal plea.
Last summer, ComEd agreed to pay the government $200 million to end the federal investigation into the company. The utility – which serves about 70% of the population of Illinois – has admitted to paying about $1.3 million to an array of Madigan associates in mostly no-work contracts as part of an effort to woo the speaker to look favorably on the company’s Springfield wishlist.
In addition to Moody, other Madigan allies who got such consulting deals included former 13th Ward Ald. Frank Olivo, retired 23rd Ward Ald. Michael Zalewski and longtime Madigan political operative Ray Nice.
Moody has been the recorder of deeds since December 2018, when he was appointed to replace another Madigan ally, Karen Yarbrough, after she was elected county clerk. For two years before that, Moody was a Cook County commissioner. Next month the clerk’s office is set to absorb the recorder’s office and much of its staff.
Moody, who has not been charged, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Also included in the massive batch of emails was correspondence about potential hires between ComEd officials and ex-Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago and representatives for House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. Neither Cullerton nor Durkin have surfaced in the federal probe.
At a committee hearing on the scandal in September, a ComEd attorney said the hiring of a Durkin-endorsed lobbyist was not made to “curry favor” with the Republican legislative leader.
Editor’s note: ComEd is an underwriter of WBEZ.