Editorial: Committee investigating Madigan should not delay its work
The Illinois House created a Special Investigating Committee in September to study whether Speaker Michael Madigan should be censured for connections to the ComEd bribery scandal. This week, the committee's chairman, Hillside Democrat Emanuel "Chris" Welch, said the body won't meet again until after the election. Welch complained that committee members are doing too much political campaigning around the committee's actions.
To be clear, only two of the committee's six members face political challenges in November -- Republicans Deanne Mazzochi, of Elmhurst, and Grant Wehrli, of Naperville -- but, to whatever extent they are inserting the group's activities into their campaign messages, they are hardly alone in trying to steer its work to political advantage.
Welch and the committee's other two Democrats have done everything possible to block efforts to subpoena the speaker to answer questions about his involvement with the ComEd case. And, when ComEd offered to provide a document it said would clarify that Madigan -- identified in the federal bribery case only as Public Official A -- pressed the utility to place one of his supporters on its board of directors, Welch instead asked federal investigators to release several years' worth of documents related to ComEd and Illinois governors, House and Senate leaders and their staffs going back through the Rauner and Quinn administrations.
In a release condemning delays of the committee's work, Mazzochi colorfully, and accurately, called this tactic "asking for the haystack after we've already found the needle."
The charge brought against Madigan accuses him of "conduct which is unbecoming to a legislator or which constitutes a breach of public trust." Madigan has denied any wrongdoing, but declined to appear before the committee to address the complaint. His allies on the panel seem determined to prevent the question from ever getting a broad airing in the House.
Legislative investigations like this one often are meant more as political theater than truly probative endeavors, but if any question ever had reasonable cause for examination, the one at the core of this committee's mission -- whether the speaker of the House of Representatives and most powerful individual in Illinois government should be punished for a role in a massive, yearslong bribery scheme -- surely must qualify.
This panel has a duty to determine what the speaker's conduct in the ComEd case was and whether, eventually, the full House should make a statement on whether it is acceptable. Welch's decision to halt all meetings until some unspecified date after the election simply impedes that mission and puts a cap on the conclusion that the last thing Democrats on the Special Investigating Committee want to do is investigate. The public deserves better.