A GOP-driven legislative probe into embattled House Speaker Michael Madigan has been launched to look into any possible connections between the top state Democrat and Commonwealth Edison’s bribery-tainted lobbying, a move the speaker Wednesday bitterly dismissed as a “political stunt.”
While not charged, Madigan was labeled “Public Official A” in a federal criminal settlement with the utility that alleged he signed off on favorable treatment of ComEd’s legislative wishlist in exchange for utility jobs and contracts for his supporters. On Wednesday, the speaker characterized that accusation as “seriously mistaken.”
On Monday, with no fanfare, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and two colleagues filed paperwork with the Illinois House to launch a special legislative investigation into Madigan’s ties with ComEd.
It was Madigan who announced the maneuver in a statement issued shortly before noon Wednesday.
The speaker denied wrongdoing, said he would recuse himself from deliberations, put House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, in charge of the matter and delivered an uncharacteristic and highly personal attack on the House Republican leader.
“If Rep. Durkin wants to question whether legislators should be allowed to make job recommendations, I encourage him to be transparent and disclose all of the jobs he has requested or lobbyists he has recommended over the years,” Madigan said in the statement, noting that Republicans were key to passing the ComEd-backed legislation upon which federal investigators focused.
“He should also disclose the various actions he personally took to pass the energy bills, both in 2011 and 2016,” Madigan said.
Durkin said the accusations laid out in the deferred prosecution agreement U.S. Attorney John Lausch signed with the utility obligate the House to investigate the speaker.
“Given the facts admitted by ComEd for its nine-year-long scheme to bribe Speaker Madigan, the Illinois House of Representatives must do its job and conduct a thorough investigation,” Durkin said.
The speaker also questioned the timing of the filing, particularly with the Nov. 3 election now 62 days away, calling it a “political stunt.” Madigan likened Durkin’s move to a diversionary tactic to shift focus from President Donald Trump’s own political problems that threaten to drag down the GOP this fall.
“I can’t identify one thing Rep. Durkin and the Illinois Republican Party have done to help Illinois residents struggling from a global pandemic and a weakened economy,” Madigan said. “Rather than focusing on ways to get us out of Donald Trump’s mess, Republicans have spent their time and dollars trying to convince people I am to blame for the type of corruption and unethical conduct Donald Trump emulates every day.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday that he hoped the panel would dissect what really happened with ComEd’s legislation under Madigan’s watch.
“As I have said all along, there are questions that need to be answered by the speaker and perhaps the creation of this legislative committee will actually get some of those answers,” the governor said. “I favor more information, more transparency and I encourage the speaker and anyone that they may call to give the answers to the questions that this committee will ask.”
When pressed whether he agreed with Madigan’s contention that this is a political stunt, Pritzker responded, “I want to hear the answers.”
The special investigative committee that has now been formed will consist of six House members, split equally between Republicans and Democrats. It is the same venue used to recommend impeachment articles against former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the 2012 House expulsion of former state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, who was convicted of bribery.
The panel will be chaired by state Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside.
Under Illinois House rules, if that investigative committee recommends charges, a 12-member House disciplinary tribunal will try the case and determine whether to put the matter before the full House. The disciplinary panel’s composition also is split equally by party.
The process before both panels tilts heavily in Madigan’s favor. A tie vote could stall the process, amounting to a win for the speaker.
And if the charges against Madigan were to reach the full House, any sanction would require two-thirds approval by the 118-member legislative body.