Since being indicted last March as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation, former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan has been personally soliciting campaign contributions for his Democratic ward organization — and has gotten more than $400,000 for the political fund, including $20,000 this month.
These contributions from labor unions and other allies have helped replenish $302,000 in legal fees Madigan’s 13th Ward Democratic Organization has spent since being subpoenaed by a federal grand jury as part of the ongoing criminal case, records show.
The federal investigation has focused on Madigan’s actions while he was speaker of the Illinois House.
But the grand jury also sought records from the Democratic Party ward organization on the Southwest Side that he still oversees, helping elect candidates to state and local offices this month.
Over the past two years, Madigan has paid the Akerman law firm $302,000 from his ward campaign fund to respond to the subpoenas, campaign-finance records show.
That’s in addition to more than $10 million in legal fees it’s previously been reported that the former speaker has paid other law firms out of his personal campaign fund since January 2019, when the Chicago Sun-Times broke the story that someone working undercover with federal authorities had secretly recorded meetings with Madigan.
“Akerman LLP was engaged by the 13th Ward to respond to two subpoenas over the past several years,” says Sergio Acosta, an attorney with the firm who formerly was a federal prosecutor and the state’s gambling administrator. “One was a grand jury subpoena, and the other was a third-party subpoena involving litigation to which the 13th Ward is not a party.
“We provided all requested information and understand that the requesting parties, including the government, are fully satisfied with the production of records responsive to the subpoenas,” Acosta says.
There’s nothing illegal about Madigan shaking the bushes for campaign contributions while he is under indictment in connection to what prosecutors have portrayed as bribery schemes related to legislation involving two of the state’s biggest utility companies — Commonwealth Edison and AT&T Illinois.
But it’s unusual to see such a large haul associated with someone in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors who no longer can dole out political favors and jobs, as Madigan did for decades while one of Illinois’ most powerful government officials as House speaker.
A message left with the 13th Ward, seeking comment on the Madigan fundraising letter and how the fund intends to spend what was raised recently, went unanswered.
There’s nothing to stop him from putting it toward his legal defense. State law doesn’t bar current or former officeholders from using political funds for their legal defense in criminal cases. In a ruling last year, the Illinois Supreme Court reaffirmed that politicians could do so by tapping their campaign contributions.
As of the end of September, Madigan had $6.4 million in his personal campaign fund — Friends of Michael J. Madigan — and $2.6 million more in his ward organization’s warchest.
Last July, four months after his racketeering indictment on charges that accuse him of using his powerful office for years to criminally enrich himself and those loyal to him, Madigan sent a solicitation letter to potential donors, making a pitch for money.
“Dear 13th Ward Democratic organization member,” the former speaker wrote. “The 13th Ward Democratic Organization cocktail reception will not be held this year. We will, however, continue the tradition of preparing the annual 13th Ward ad book to promote local business.
“Participation in the preparation of the ad book is entirely voluntary. Advertisement returns will be accepted at the dates and times listed on the enclosed schedule.”
The letter ends: “Thank you for your assistance. With kindest personal regards, I remain sincerely yours, Michael J. Madigan, chairman.”
Labor unions — which were the biggest contributors — have a history of supporting Madigan. They include the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and its national political arm, the Engineers Political Education Committee, the LiUNA Chicago Laborers’ District Council Political Action Committee and the Laborers’ Political League Great Lakes Region fund.
Each of those labor entities contributed $59,900 to the 13th Ward Democratic Organization fund following Madigan’s solicitation.
Officials with several union groups declined to comment about giving money to the Madigan-led fund.
Robert G. Reiter, Jr., president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, says the solicitation request from the former speaker last summer was nothing unusual.
“It was just a solicitation to help get out the vote,” says Reiter, whose organization gave Madigan’s ward fund $2,500 in September. “It was a simple ask.”
Reiter says the aim was to help support state Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, D-Chicago, and state Sen.-elect Michael Porfirio, D-Chicago. Both represent the 13th Ward in Springfield.
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ and Tim Novak is an investigative reporter with the Chicago Sun-Times.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct a mistaken reference to the timing of a previous Sun-Times report.