Under Republican grilling, lawyers representing Commonwealth Edison told a legislative panel Tuesday how the power company repeatedly engaged in bribery to influence House Speaker Michael Madigan, dealing a messy blow that the speaker’s Democratic allies struggled to clean up.
The bi-partisan committee weighing potential misconduct charges against the speaker and state Democratic Party chairman heard the most public airing so far about the lengths ComEd went to curry favor with Madigan – including revelations that the scheme was wider than previously disclosed. The company has admitted to showering no-work contracts on members of Madigan’s political army and even putting one ally on the company’s board to illegally bolster its standing with the speaker.
“The evidence supporting this charge is overwhelming. It’s strong. It’s direct,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said in an opening statement to the committee. “Speaker Madigan abused his office. Speaker Madigan abused the public trust.”
Madigan himself was not present at Tuesday’s hearing. He’s refused to testify, dismissing the process as a Republican political stunt, and he has not been charged.
Still, the questioning went into the evening as Republicans put ComEd’s lawyers – and the missing speaker himself – on the spot in a line-by-line dissection of a $200 million settlement the company entered into with U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office last July. That deferred prosecution agreement essentially means ComEd won’t be prosecuted further over the statehouse lobbying scandal.
“ComEd acknowledges repeatedly through the agreement it believed it intended to influence the speaker through its conduct,” said company attorney David Glockner, a former federal prosecutor and federal securities regulator.
Glockner, for the first time, publicly identified specific subcontracts ComEd had with Madigan allies for whom no work product could be identified, including Madigan operative Raymond Nice, former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski and Frank Olivo, though it was not clear whether he was referring to the ex-13th Ward alderman or his son of the same name. WBEZ later confirmed Glockner was referring to the former alderman.
All were paid through the lobbying firm once owned by former ComEd lobbyist and City Club of Chicago head Jay Doherty, Glockner said.
State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, asked the ComEd lawyer why it was willing to pay such clout-heavy subcontractors when it was apparent no work was being produced on behalf of the power company.
“I think the deferred prosecution agreement indicates ComEd thought it would be helpful for the company with Speaker Madigan,” Glockner said.
In another new disclosure, Glockner identified that other no-work contracts to associates of Madigan were funneled through four Springfield lobbying firms owned by the speaker’s close friend, ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain; lobbyist Victor Reyes; former Madigan staffer Shaw Decremer; and ex-state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion.
But Mike Noonan, Reyes’ business partner, said their Roosevelt Group did not employ any lobbyists as subcontractors under its deal with ComEd’s parent company, Exelon. “We have done nothing improper,” Noonan told WBEZ. “We hope Mr. Glockner will correct his mistake.”
None of those individuals Glockner named have been charged in connection with the federal investigation, and Glockner declined to give details about those particular arrangements.
“What those subcontractors did or may not have done, I can’t speak to that without going into areas that I can’t go,” Glockner told the committee.
And in one other new development, Glockner confirmed ComEd had received an email from a Madigan office assistant encouraging the company to place former McPier chief Juan Ochoa on ComEd’s board of directors. Ochoa was on the utility’s board from April 2019 until last April.
ComEd’s settlement with federal prosecutors confirmed that Madigan sought to have Ochoa placed on the ComEd board as early as 2017. But citing internal company opposition to the appointment, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore offered Ochoa a $78,000-a-year part-time job. McClain told her Madigan would “appreciate” Ochoa be elevated to the board, which eventually happened.
State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, asked Glockner if there were additional emails or other communications from the speaker or his representatives related to conduct in the deferred prosecution agreement.
“There are certain communications that do fit within that broadly defined parameter, I don’t have them all with me,” Glockner confirmed.
Democrats tried to argue that there is no evidence Madigan himself knew he was the target of ComEd’s bribery, that a lawmaker seeking a utility job for someone isn’t illegal, and that ComEd even hired a specific lobbyist Durkin himself had endorsed.
“There’s nothing in the information you just read that would indicate Mr. Madigan had personal knowledge of the scheme laid out in the [deferred] prosecution agreement, is that correct?” asked Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, D-Hillside, chairman of the House Special Investigating Committee.
“The deferred prosecution agreement doesn’t establish personal knowledge by Mr. Madigan,” Glockner answered.
The Durkin-linked lobbyist was identified by state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, as former state Sen. Tom Walsh, R-LaGrange Park. State lobbyist registration records show Walsh represented ComEd during its successful push for 2016 legislation that authorized more than $2.3 billion in ratepayer subsidies for two underperforming nuclear plants owned by ComEd’s parent, Exelon.
But when pressed by Hernandez about whether Walsh’s lobbying gig was equally suspect, Glockner said, “I’m not aware that particular hire was made to curry favor with Leader Durkin.”
After about five hours of testimony Tuesday, the House panel recessed, with its next steps very much up in the air and partisan tempers beginning to flare.
Welch told the panel that a lawyer representing ComEd’s former in-house top lobbyist, Fidel Marquez, had asked that the committee delay a request for him to testify before the committee because of a scheduling conflict. Marquez pleaded guilty to a bribery-related charge at the Dirksen Federal Building an hour before Tuesday’s legislative hearing began.
“We have to reach out to Mr. Marquez’ attorney now, based on the information that came out today, to determine what our next steps should be,” Welch said.
Republicans on the panel pressed for subpoenas that would compel testimony from Madigan, McClain, Doherty, Zalewski, Pramaggiore and former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker. But Welch blocked a vote on that request Tuesday night amid a complaint from Mazzochi that the committee was devolving into a “kangaroo court.”
Welch informed the committee that he had discretion on whether subpoenas would be issued, though he welcomed input from GOP members.
“I have to determine whether invoking the power of subpoena at this point is, at best, premature or even right,” he said shortly before ending the committee hearing with no dates for resumption on the table.