Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan emphatically rejected on Friday a Republican push to have him testify about his alleged role in a Commonwealth Edison bribery scheme that rewarded his loyalists with no-show jobs and contracts to help advance the utility’s Springfield agenda.
“I cannot provide information I do not have, and I cannot answer questions about issues of which I have no knowledge or conversations to which I was not a party,” the speaker wrote in a fiery three-page letter to members of a House panel investigating his possible misconduct.
Madigan, though not charged, again denied wrongdoing Friday. But he is believed to be at the center of a federal investigation into ComEd’s statehouse lobbying that succeeded in passing legislation worth at least $150 million to the company between 2011 and last year.
Republicans pushed for the creation of a House committee to consider sanctions, which could include possible expulsion, against the Southwest Side Democrat. The GOP put Madigan atop a list of witnesses from whom they wanted testimony about the ComEd scandal. The next hearing is Tuesday.
In his letter to members of the House Special Investigating Committee, Madigan continued to insist he did nothing wrong and was unaware of any campaign by ComEd to influence him. The company previously acknowledged rewarding close associates of Madigan’s with more than $1.3 million in payments, jobs and contracts.
“Let me be clear: That attempt was never made known to me — if it had been, it would have been profoundly unwelcome,” Madigan said.
The speaker said he was not invoking his federal Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by refusing to testify. He expressed concern that any testimony he might offer would impede the federal probe and only satisfy the election-year political designs of House Republicans and their leader, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs.
“The federal investigation is more important than Mr. Durkin’s political theatrics, and I cannot in good conscience take any action that may in any way interfere with a federal investigation or potential prosecutions, solely to appease the minority party’s desire to use government resources for a political purpose,” the speaker wrote.
The $200 million settlement between ComEd and federal prosecutors included the utility company’s acknowledgment that it hired precinct captains in Madigan’s political organization as part of its bid to curry favor with the speaker.
Madigan did not deny steering political supporters to ComEd and went so far as to offer a spirited defense for doing so — even as the company had pivotal business before the legislative chamber he has led for all but two years since 1983.
“To the extent that anyone at ComEd or Exelon believed that they could influence my conduct as a legislator by deciding to hire someone I may have recommended, someone who worked for me, or someone who did political work for me, they were incredibly mistaken,” he said. “If they even harbored the thought that they could bribe or influence me, they would have failed miserably. I take offense at any notion otherwise.”
Madigan said he believed one of his core functions as a legislator was to find people jobs.
“I believe that it is part of my duties as a community and political leader to help good people find work — from potential executives to college interns and more,” he said.
ComEd has agreed to send representatives to Tuesday’s House hearing, but it’s unclear how that meeting will unfold now that the star witness has rejected the committee’s request to testify.
House Republicans also had sought testimony from former ComEd lobbyist and Madigan adviser, Michael McClain; former City Club of Chicago head and ex-ComEd lobbyist Jay Doherty; former ComEd president and CEO Anne Pramaggiore; former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker; former in-house ComEd lobbyist Fidel Marquez; and former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski, another ex-ComEd lobbyist.
In correspondence sent earlier this week and today, McClain, Doherty, Pramaggiore and Zalewski also declined to appear before the committee. Those letters were released today.
The committee did not receive responses from any of the other witnesses Republicans had sought as of 5 p.m. Friday, said the panel’s chairman, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside.
“The committee will proceed as scheduled with our Tuesday, Sept. 29 hearing at 2 p.m., and I ask all members to come prepared to conduct themselves in a manner reflective of the serious business before us,” Welch said.
A spokesman for Durkin did not immediately respond to a WBEZ request for comment on Madigan’s move.
Earlier in the day Friday, Durkin reiterated his decision to call on this committee to investigate Madigan.
“I expect Chairman Welch to give me an opportunity to present my case as I stated earlier to this committee, but also to all Illinoisans, so they have a clear understanding of this,” Durkin said at an unrelated news conference. “I can’t even imagine how big this [federal] investigation’s going to get, but this is extremely troubling when it is done for the benefit of Speaker Madigan in exchange for legislative favors. … If there ever was a case that cried out for this type of action from the General Assembly, it’s this.”
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, ComEd is a WBEZ underwriter.