After retiring from Cook County, Raymond Nice supplemented his public pension checks with a job representing Commonwealth Edison’s interests in county government.
For Nice – a longtime campaign operative for Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan – the job paid as much as $60,000 a year on top of his annual pension of more than $70,000, records show.
Nice answered to ComEd lobbyist and City Club of Chicago President Jay Doherty. Earlier this year, Nice disclosed that his work involved talking to county officials about ComEd’s business operations “when requested by Jay Doherty.”
But records show Nice’s job ended on July 1 – weeks after FBI agents raided the nonprofit City Club’s offices in the Wrigley Building in mid-May as part of a broad public corruption investigation into ComEd.
Authorities sought documents about Madigan and ComEd as they probed allegations the giant power company had hired multiple politically connected consultants – including some with ties to Madigan – under deals that demanded little or no work, WBEZ has reported. A source involved in the investigation has told WBEZ the feds are looking into suspicions that Doherty served as a “pass through” for ComEd’s deals with clout hires.
It’s unclear whether Nice’s arrangement is among those contracts facing federal scrutiny. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, which is heading the investigation, declined to comment, and prosecutors have not filed any charges in the matter.
Nice did not return emails and messages left on his cell phone and at his new job at a real estate company.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for ComEd said, “As we have noted, we are cooperating fully with the investigation and are not able to comment further.”
But the deal with Nice provides another clear indication of the cozy ties between Madigan and ComEd. The utility has enjoyed a long string of successes in Springfield, including lawmakers’ approval for government subsidies and electricity-rate increases on its more than 4 million customers in northern Illinois.
WBEZ has reported that the vast majority of ComEd’s lobbyists in state government are former aides to Madigan or retired lawmakers who served in Madigan’s House Democratic caucus during his 35-year tenure.
And until recently, ComEd also employed close Madigan confidant Michael McClain, whose home in downstate Quincy was raided on the same day that agents appeared at the City Club office in downtown Chicago and at the homes of two other Madigan allies.
A veteran precinct captain in Madigan’s home ward
Nice, 64, has deep connections to Madigan’s power base in the 13th Ward, on the Southwest Side of Chicago, where he was a precinct captain for the speaker’s Democratic ward organization during his long career in county government.
The Friends of Michael J. Madigan political committee and the Madigan-controlled Democratic Majority group have paid Nice more than $5,600 in nine payments from 2006 until December of last year, state campaign-finance disclosure records show.
Nice’s paid political work involved helping Madigan-endorsed candidates, including Fred Crespo, a state representative from the northwest suburbs, and Paul Mangieri, who was a circuit judge in western Illinois.
In turn, Nice contributed $2,300 to Madigan’s 13th Ward Democratic Organization and another $2,000 to Madigan ally Joe Berrios’ campaigns for Cook County assessor while Nice was an employee for the county’s recorder of deeds.
Nice made about $118,000 a year as deputy recorder of deeds and briefly served on the panel that rules on county employee disciplinary cases, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2014.
That gig only lasted a few months, but Nice soon landed a $15,000-a-year, part-time appointment to a state panel, the Employment Security Board of Review, in December 2013. Records show he remained there until March 2017.
Nice retired from the county after 19 years of service and had begun collecting a pension in October 2011, according to data compiled by the Better Government Association. As of 2017, his pension was more than $72,321 a year.
‘No lobbying activity reported’
In addition to that salary, for at least the last four years, Nice had worked a lobbyist at the county. But it’s unclear whether he actually did any lobbying work for ComEd.
Since the middle of 2015, he had told county ethics officials he was being paid either $25,000 or $30,000 in each six-month reporting period, for representing ComEd as “sole proprietor” of what he described as a “lobbying-consulting” practice.
The county rules also require lobbyists to detail any contacts that they have with county officials on behalf of their clients.
But on all of Nice’s disclosures, there was “no lobbying activity reported,” according to records from the county clerk’s Ethics Unit.
A source with knowledge of Madigan’s political operation told WBEZ it seemed unlikely that Nice had lobbied.
“Calling him a lobbyist is like calling me an astronaut,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
The source added Nice’s clout is well-known.
“This is a reward to a guy who spent 30 years to help Mike Madigan amass and maintain power,” the source said. “He’s a top soldier in that operation.”
Under the part of the disclosure form for “client information,” Nice described the job in his most recent filing, for the first half of the year, like this: “When requested by Jay Doherty, talk to county officials regarding ComEd business operations within Cook County.”
And on each of his disclosure forms in the last four years, Nice gave the phone number for the City Club as the primary office number of his client.
Doherty had worked for ComEd as Springfield lobbyist since 2010, according to disclosure forms he filed with state officials. WBEZ first reported that ComEd has paid Doherty more than $3.1 million in recent years.
On Nov. 4, though, Doherty told state officials he had stopped lobbying for ComEd.
Selling home in 13th Ward
In addition to his lobbying practice, Doherty has been best known as the volunteer president of the 116-year-old City Club, which organizes high-profile speaker appearances at luncheons that are well-attended by movers and shakers in Chicago politics and business.
WBEZ has reported that the agents who raided the City Club in May sought documents on up to 20 people, including Madigan.
Doherty and his lawyer did not return calls seeking comment, and Doherty did not reply to text messages with questions about his relationship with Nice. Madigan’s spokesman did not return multiple messages asking about Nice.
Nice now is working as an agent for a real estate company on the Southwest Side. A couple of weeks ago, he put his own home in the 13th Ward up for sale.
ComEd officials have disclosed that they and parent company Exelon got two subpoenas from the office of John Lausch, the top federal prosecutor in Chicago.
The utility company said one of the subpoenas was for information about their lobbying activities in Illinois and the other subpoena sought communications with “certain individuals and entities,” including then-Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago.
Sandoval, a Madigan ally who resigned last week, was the target of a September raid at his Illinois Capitol office. Documents from the raid show the feds’ wanted records Sandoval had on ComEd, Exelon, four unidentified Exelon officials and anything related to rate increases.
WBEZ and the Better Government Association first reported the FBI had executed a search warrant at the home of former Chicago City Council member and longtime Madigan ally Michael Zalewski in the spring, on the same day they raided the City Club and McClain’s home.
Three sources familiar with the probe told WBEZ and the BGA that agents were looking into efforts to get work for Zalewski at ComEd and the interactions between Madigan, Zalewski and McClain, who was the power company’s influential lobbyist for many years.