A critic of former House Speaker Michael Madigan appears to have been drawn into the federal criminal investigation of the once-powerful Southwest Side Democrat, newly filed campaign finance reports show, but to what extent is not clear.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, disclosed spending more than $11,000 last July for what she initially described Thursday in her quarterly campaign-finance filing as “legal fees for MJM investigation” — an apparent reference to the ex-speaker.
Whether Cassidy possibly had been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury or perhaps interviewed by federal law enforcement agents probing Madigan was not evident in her filings, and she declined to explain the expenditures.
Cassidy, who helped torpedo another term as speaker for Madigan last January, has never been implicated in the federal criminal investigation surrounding him.
“I have nothing to add,” she told WBEZ in a text message when asked about the circumstances surrounding her legal fees paid to the St. Louis-based law firm of Thompson Coburn.
But, in fact, Cassidy did have more to add as the day progressed.
Shortly before 5:30 p.m. Thursday — eight hours after her initial filing and three hours after queries from WBEZ — the North Side Democrat filed an amendment with the State Board of Elections to “correct the description of an expenditure.”
The payments to Thompson Coburn on July 13 and 21 that she earlier had associated with the Madigan probe were described in her amendment merely as “legal fees,” with any references to the ex-speaker stricken.
“The staff member who was point on that campaign finance compliance filing included the comment in error. It has been corrected,” a Cassidy spokesperson said in a statement Thursday night.
Among Thompson Coburn’s Chicago-based attorneys are former Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2018. It isn’t clear whether either had any involvement in representing Cassidy.
Mariotti declined comment when asked late Thursday if he is representing Cassidy, saying he does not do so as a matter of practice “unless my name is on a public filing.” Cullerton did not immediately respond to a WBEZ query.
Madigan has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
However, the power company Commonwealth Edison has admitted in federal court that it embarked on a years-long effort to bribe Madigan by awarding jobs and contracts to Madigan associates to curry favor for its legislative agenda in Springfield.
The sprawling corruption probe has ensnared close Madigan allies, including his former chief-of-staff and his close confidante. Both have pleaded not guilty.
In his own campaign-finance filings Thursday, Madigan disclosed spending nearly $62,000 on legal fees with law firms in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore in the past three months.
Since the July 2020 deferred prosecution agreement between ComEd and U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office, Madigan’s main political fund — the Friends of Michael J Madigan committee — has expended more than $4.2 million in legal fees.
State law does not prohibit Illinois politicians from dipping into their political funds to pay for lawyers should they face a criminal investigation. The Friends of Michael J Madigan committee reported $10.5 million remaining in its account as of Sept. 30.
A Lausch spokesman did not respond to questions from WBEZ about Cassidy late Thursday.
She has been a vocal critic of Madigan, particularly over his handling of sexual harassment complaints in his political operation.
In 2018, Cassidy led the criticism of Madigan’s handling of sexual harassment complaints within his political organization.
That same year, she publicly accused Madigan’s then-chief of staff, Tim Mapes, of intimidating her employer, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, when she opposed legislation that Sheriff Tom Dart supported.
It was in that context, she said, that Mapes called the sheriff’s office and inquired about her job status — which Cassidy interpreted as an ominous attempt of retribution for her critiques.
A review of the incident — paid for by the speaker’s office — found insufficient evidence to show that Mapes, who did not participate in the investigation, violated any rules.
For his part, Madigan told investigators the Mapes call was “just a matter of curiosity” and it was not his intention to send a message of intimidation.
Cassidy resigned from her position with the sheriff’s office.
Cassidy called on Madigan to resign in July 2020 and in January, Cassidy was one of several House Democrats who refused to endorse Madigan for another term as House speaker. Collectively, they successfully blocked him from keeping his grip on the Speaker’s gavel.