Federal recordings of then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan offer a rare glimpse into the once-powerful — but reclusive — politician’s personality and humor as he discussed a potential appointment to the ComEd board of directors in 2018.
Speaking to longtime confidant Michael McClain, Madigan joked in a recorded phone call that “maybe I’ll take the appointment” after McClain told him the position would pay $78,000. In another call, he made a quip about the financial affairs of President Harry Truman.
Madigan’s comments may not exactly find a place in the Chicago corruption lexicon, but most of the words previously attributed by the feds to Madigan, including in his indictment, are far more flat.
Madigan was always deliberate and careful in dealing with the press during his lengthy tenure as speaker. It was rare to get him to go off script about his legislative priorities in interviews with reporters in the hallways of the Illinois State Capitol and in news conferences.
Madigan gave up the gavel in January 2021. Then, in March, a federal grand jury hit him and McClain with a 106-page racketeering indictment. In part, it alleged that the men sought jobs, contracts and money for Madigan’s associates from ComEd between 2011 and 2019 and that Madigan took official action to help ComEd pass favorable legislation.
Those accusations are also at issue in a separate case, filed in November 2020, in which McClain is set to stand trial Sept. 12. Also charged in that case are ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, ex-top ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and Jay Doherty, the former president of the City Club.
The feds also charged ComEd with bribery in July 2020. The utility entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement, admitting that it wrongly tried to sway Madigan. That deal alleged that Madigan sought the appointment of former McPier CEO Juan Ochoa to the ComEd board of directors through McClain starting in 2017. It said opposition within the company in May 2018 prompted Pramaggiore to ask McClain if Madigan would be satisfied with a part-time job for Ochoa that paid the same amount as the board position — $78,000 a year.
Now, a newly unsealed FBI affidavit filed in federal court in Springfield documents alleged conversations between McClain and Madigan about that appointment in May 2018.
Lawyers for Madigan and McClain have declined to comment on the new affidavit.
The document said that Madigan called McClain on May 2, 2018, and asked, “Can you talk, Mike?”
“I can, I’m in the car, but I have headphones on and there is no one else in the car,” McClain said.
McClain then went on to explain “they’ve got just a little bit of push back” on the bid to appoint Ochoa, and mentioned “some financial problems in the past and stuff like that.” He said Pramaggiore wanted to know if it was important to Madigan that Ochoa be on the board.
“And if it is, she’ll keep pushing,” McClain said. “And if it’s not, you’re just trying to help him out, then she’ll try to find something that would compensate him equally with that.”
Madigan asked, “What would that mean, Mike?”
McClain said “she’d find something. Not a full-time job, it would not be a full-time job.” Madigan then asked how much a board member is paid, and McClain said, “$78,000.”
Madigan laughed and said, “Maybe I’ll take the appointment,” according to the affidavit.
Eventually, Madigan said, “I would suggest that we continue” their support but added, “keep me advised as to how much pushback there is.”
The men spoke again on May 16, 2018, according to the affidavit. Though the document is partially redacted, the men again discussed the bid for an Ochoa appointment, and Madigan said, “My recommendation is, go forward.”
Madigan then said, “If the only complaint about” an individual “is that he suffers from bankruptcy twice, so did Harry Truman.”
McClain said, “Right.”
Later, McClain spoke to Pramaggiore by phone and allegedly made comments first revealed in ComEd’s deal with federal prosecutors. Regarding the Ochoa appointment, McClain said Madigan “would appreciate it if you would keep pressing.”
Ochoa joined the board in April 2019, records show.
Contributing: Mark Brown