The federal corruption probe in a Springfield bribery scandal continues, but three allies of Michael Madigan shut down the House’s own probe into the embattled House speaker and state Democratic Party chairman on Monday without taking any action against him.
The pro-Madigan vote along partisan lines infuriated the Republicans who started the House Special Investigative Committee after Commonwealth Edison had admitted to a long-running bribery scheme in the Illinois Capitol.
ComEd and federal prosecutors say the corruption was intended to win Madigan’s support for the power company, including legislation that led to sharp electricity-delivery rate hikes across northern Illinois. But the feds have not charged Madigan in the ongoing probe, and he denies wrongdoing.
On Monday, even as Madigan appears to be short of claiming enough votes to extend his record tenure as speaker, he received unanimous backing from the three Democrats on the House investigative committee.
The panel’s chairman, Rep. Chris Welch of Hillside, and the other two Democratic lawmakers on the six-member investigative committee — Lisa Hernandez of Cicero and Romeoville’s Natalie Manley — staunchly shielded Madigan during what would prove to be the investigative group’s final session in Springfield.
The three Democrats rejected GOP efforts to subpoena Madigan to appear before the committee and then thwarted another Republican proposal, to ask ComEd executives to testify about internal emails they turned over to the panel last month.
“You’re doing everything you possibly can to protect him,” Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said. “You all should be embarrassed.”
GOP Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst said the Democrats on the committee had “turned this into a kangaroo process” and harmed the integrity of state government because they are “terrified” of forcing Madigan to testify under oath about the corruption scandal.
Last month, prosecutors in Chicago indicted four former ComEd executives and lobbyists, including close Madigan confidant Michael McClain and the power company’s former chief executive Anne Pramaggiore. That followed a guilty plea from ComEd’s retired top in-house lobbyist, Fidel Marquez Jr.
But the three Democrats said there was no evidence Madigan had any personal knowledge of ComEd’s attempts to influence him, echoing the speaker’s own defense in the wake of the federal corruption investigation and the House committee’s formation.
Manley said the committee risked infecting members with COVID-19 and wasted taxpayer money for the GOP’s partisan purposes.
Hernandez said Madigan merely engaged in the “common practice” of “checking on the status of legal job recommendations.”
And Welch added, “Making job recommendations is not illegal or unethical…I am not aware of an indictment of Speaker Madigan. I think that is important.”
WBEZ has reported that Madigan recommended Welch’s wife and mother for state positions in clout lists sent to Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s office in 2019.
On Monday, Welch refused to allow a vote on a Republican motion to subpoena Madigan. Instead, the Democrats pushed a proposal to issue subpoenas to unnamed “certain persons” — only to vote that idea down, too.
Wehrli said it was absurd to vote on a subpoena to unspecified individuals.
“The three Democrats on this [committee] will not go so far as to even name names,” Wehrli said. “This isn’t Voldemort we are talking about here. You can actually say the man’s name. You’re going to excruciating lengths to protect Michael J. Madigan from ever having to testify to his nefarious behavior.”
After that vote, Welch said he had taken such action because, “We’re not going to subpoena anyone.”
Later in Monday’s meeting, in his closing remarks, Welch said it was unfair and a joke to initiate the committee: “The joke ends today.”
Madigan released a statement Monday criticizing Republican Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin for the “political theater” of the investigation.
“If Jim Durkin actually believes it is conduct unbecoming of a legislator to recommend people for jobs or help constituents, he might want to review his own hypocritical behavior,” Madigan wrote. “Rather than finger pointing, I suggest we focus on the important work that lies ahead of us.”
None of the three Democrats on the investigative panel are among the party members in the House who have said they would not back Madigan’s bid to remain as speaker next year. Despite lacking the votes, Madigan continues to lobby to continue his once-tight grip on the speaker’s gavel.
Last week, the Black members of the House announced they were backing Madigan to stay as speaker for a 19th term. Welch is a member of that group but did not reply when WBEZ asked if he had participated in the Black caucus endorsement of Madigan.
Madigan is the longest-serving state legislative leader in the country’s history, serving as speaker for 36 of the past 38 years.
According to federal court records, ComEd secretly hired Madigan allies as consultants even though they did little or no work. The power company agreed to pay a $200 million fine to settle the case against it.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.