Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan tried to get state jobs last year for a half-dozen people with close ties to the chairman of a new, special House committee investigating Madigan’s links to a Springfield bribery scandal, according to records obtained by WBEZ.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside is the chairman of the bipartisan panel, which is scheduled to meet for the second time on Tuesday to begin hearing testimony.
Welch’s relationship to Madigan has come under heavy scrutiny since he was named on Sept. 2 to lead the “Special Investigative Committee” looking into the federal corruption scandal. Illinois Republicans have accused Welch of inhibiting the probe to protect Madigan, who also chairs the state’s Democratic Party.
House Republicans initiated the special panel investigation after Commonwealth Edison’s bombshell admissions in federal court in July. The power company engaged in an eight-year bribery scheme to win support for lucrative state legislation, funneling payments to politically-connected consultants who actually did little or no work.
According to court records, the corruption was designed to win favor for the giant electric utility with “Public Official A” — a clear reference to Madigan.
In launching the legislative hearings, House GOP Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs alleged the speaker “engaged in conduct which is unbecoming to a legislator or which constitutes a breach of public trust.”
Madigan has not been charged in the ongoing federal investigation and has denied wrongdoing. But on Friday, Madigan sent a letter to the House committee members informing them that he would not testify at the legislative hearings, saying, “I have provided all of the answers I can give.”
In the letter, Madigan contended that he considered it “my duty” to make job recommendations.
“Helping people find jobs is not a crime,” Madigan wrote.
Like many members of the majority party in the House, Welch has developed strong political ties to the long-serving speaker during his more than seven years as a Democratic lawmaker in Springfield.
But Welch may be even closer to Madigan than most in the House Democratic caucus, judging by the job recommendations and resumes that the speaker’s chief of staff sent to Gov. JB Pritzker’s office in early 2019, shortly before the ComEd scandal burst into public view.
Those correspondences, which WBEZ obtained this spring, show Madigan’s office suggested to the first-term governor that he hire five people Welch had recommended, including Welch’s wife.
Madigan’s top aide also forwarded the resume of Welch’s mother to two high-ranking staffers in Pritzker’s office.
The records show Madigan recommended more people with connections to Welch than anybody else during the months after Pritzker was sworn in, when the rookie governor was looking to fill many job openings in his administration.
Only one of those six people with ties to Welch got what they wanted from the governor, even though 35 of the nearly 80 job seekers who appeared on Madigan’s clout lists ultimately would land on the state-government payroll or on a board.
“Human shield for his mentor”
The House panel conducting its own probe into the ComEd scandal includes Welch, two other Democrats and three Republican state representatives.
So far, the two sides have primarily feuded over how to conduct the legislative inquiry, with sharply different interpretations of guidance they got from U.S. Atty. John Lausch, the federal prosecutor whose office is leading the criminal probe.
Welch and Madigan both have accused Republicans of politicizing the legislative investigation ahead of the November elections, using almost identical terms. Madigan has called the creation of the committee a “political stunt,” while Welch said the Republicans were trying to use the investigation “as a stage for political theater.”
But the Illinois GOP fired back that Welch was not running the committee in an impartial manner, instead “performing as a human shield for his mentor, Mike Madigan.”
ComEd executives are set to testify about the criminal case involving the state-regulated utility at the next committee meeting, on Tuesday.
Welch did not reply to repeated phone messages, text messages and emails seeking comment.
Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown also did not return messages.
Durkin’s spokeswoman said last week he would not comment on Welch’s relationship with Madigan.
Welch has been a state representative since 2013, and he also is a partner at the Ancel Glink law firm in Chicago.
After Madigan recused himself from the legislative probe, a top ally — House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago — announced that Welch would be chairman of the special committee. The other two Democrats on the panel are state Reps. Lisa Hernandez of Cicero and Natalie Manley from Romeoville.
Records show Madigan gave a recommendation for Carmen Ayala, who became the state superintendent of education, at the behest of Hernandez.
But Manley does not appear on the clout lists that Madigan’s office forwarded to the governor’s aides last year.
All three Democrats on the investigative panel have received heavy political support from the speaker. Madigan and campaign committees controlled by the speaker have contributed roughly $585,000 to Manley, nearly $133,000 to Hernandez and more than $100,000 to Welch, according to state election board records.
But Welch more than reciprocated in July 2019, giving $57,800 each to the Friends of Michael J. Madigan committee and to the speaker’s Democratic organization in the 13th Ward, his power base on the Southwest Side of Chicago.
When he made those contributions, Welch told the Chicago Sun-Times he was enthusiastically supporting Madigan’s efforts to elect Democrats. At the time, Welch said, “I actually believe it was because of his leadership that we have the super-majority that we have currently. And so I support the speaker, and I’ll continue to support the speaker.”
Since Welch and other allies gave big contributions to the speaker last year, Madigan’s campaign committee has paid nearly $600,000 in legal fees to Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, a firm in Chicago, for its representation in the federal probe.
Prosecutors delivered a subpoena to Madigan’s state office on July 17, the same day the feds hit ComEd with the bribery charge.
Wife recommended for liquor commission
Before the federal investigation came to light, Madigan’s office was aggressive in pushing the speaker’s choices to Pritzker, who won back the governor’s office for the Democrats in the 2018 election.
Soon after that victory, Madigan chief of staff Jessica Basham began sending a series of ever-expanding lists with the speaker’s job recommendations to the top aide to Pritzker, Anne Caprara and Nikki Budzinkski, another high-ranking administration official at that time.
The governor’s aides have staunchly defended their hires, saying they were qualified and thoroughly vetted, and they have downplayed the extent of Madigan’s influence in Pritzker’s selections.
On the lists, Madigan’s office noted that some of the job seekers he recommended also had the backing of certain legislators or the support of Michael McClain, the longtime ComEd lobbyist and Madigan confidant who’s also facing federal scrutiny now.
Only one other lawmaker, Democratic state Rep. Sue Scherer of Decatur, was mentioned as often as Welch on the lists sent from Madigan’s office, records show.
Listed first among Welch’s favored job candidates was ShawnTe Raines-Welch, his wife, who also is a lawyer. On April 9, 2019, Basham told the governor’s office that Raines-Welch wanted to be appointed to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. Pritzker did not choose her for the commission.
Welch and Madigan also failed to convince Pritzker to appoint others they recommended for the Chicago State University Board of Trustees, the state’s parole board, the Illinois Health Facilities Board and the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, according to the correspondences obtained by WBEZ.
The only job seeker who was recommended by Welch and Madigan, and subsequently got an appointment from the new governor was Andrea Evans, an administrator at Northeastern Illinois University who’s now a member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
“I spoke with Rep. Welch, but I’ve never spoken to or met Speaker Madigan,” Evans said in an email Friday to WBEZ.
In addition to the five people recommended by Welch and Madigan, Madigan’s office also sent the governor’s staff the resume of Willie Mae Welch, the lawmaker’s mother. Her resume was forwarded by Basham to Caprara and Budzinski on April 12, 2019, according to emails obtained by WBEZ.
The governor’s office and the Illinois House staff both redacted Willie Mae Welch’s resume from documents provided in response to requests under the state’s open-records law. Officials say they do not have any legal obligation to release records pertaining to job seekers who were not hired.
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, ComEd is a WBEZ underwriter.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. State politics reporter Tony Arnold contributed to this story.