Madigan's still in, leaving Democrats sending mixed messages about corruption probe

  • House Speaker Michael Madigan, top row, second from right, shown in 2019 is the focus of attention after a federal corruption probe that implicates him.

    House Speaker Michael Madigan, top row, second from right, shown in 2019 is the focus of attention after a federal corruption probe that implicates him. Associated Press

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker said "something in rotten in Denmark" after a federal corruption probe widened.

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker said "something in rotten in Denmark" after a federal corruption probe widened. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 7/20/2020 7:09 PM

Despite bombshell allegations of political graft by federal agents, Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan is still standing but many Democratic lawmakers he led with an iron fist for decades are wavering.

Authorities on Friday announced a $200 million settlement with ComEd officials who admitted to hiring cronies, offering payouts and awarding contracts to cronies of "Public Official A," identified as the speaker in court filings. In return, Madigan helped steer legislation that enabled rate increases, U.S. prosecutors say.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Madigan denies any wrongdoing and isn't stepping down, leaving Democrats seeking immediate action, hedging bets or going off the grid.

"What I saw was horrifying," state Rep. Anna Stava-Murray of Naperville said Monday, referring to admissions by ComEd. "Absolutely, he should step down and resign from both his positions as speaker and leader of the Illinois Democratic Party."

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, now arguably the state's most powerful Democrat, said at a Monday event, "if these allegations implied in this information about ComEd are true, the speaker would have to step down and that applies to all leadership positions."

Twelve members of the House Progressive Caucus signed a statement calling the alleged behavior "an unacceptable breach of the public trust. If these allegations are true, Speaker Madigan and any other elected official involved in this scheme must resign from public service." Among those signing were Reps. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz of Glenview, Anna Moeller of Elgin and Stava-Murray.

Several suburban Democrats did not respond to requests for reaction from the Daily Herald. Democratic State Rep. Marty Moylan of Des Plaines noted Friday he was "still digesting what's going on."

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But Republicans lost no time calling for Madigan's ouster.

"Speaker Madigan has controlled the legislative process under his rein, using his power to control what bills get passed or which get buried," Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine said in a statement. "I was strongly opposed to the ComEd bailout bill in 2016 that he helped rush through the General Assembly at the eleventh hour, and these past few days have made it clear why."

Morrison and three other representatives want to introduce a resolution seeking the speaker's resignation but the General Assembly is out until after the Nov. 3 election. Only Madigan and Pritzker can recall the House.

Some GOP members like Rep. David McSweeney are seeking a special session with hearings on ComEd's actions.

"The take-away from Friday is that for certain Mike Madigan is the focus of this investigator," said Pat Brady, a former state lawmaker, Illinois Republican Party chairman and federal prosecutor. But "even as outrageous as the allegations were against ComEd, it doesn't mean they have enough to indict or charge him."

Allegations have surfaced before against Madigan, who has a substantial war chest, but nothing has come to fruition. For some Democrats, it's like "'hey, we've been here before,'" Brady said. And, "as long as he's in that seat, he's got a lot of power."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A statement from a Madigan spokeswoman noted the speaker "has never helped someone find a job with the expectation that the person would not be asked to perform work by their employer, nor did he ever expect to provide anything to a prospective employer if it should choose to hire a person he recommended," officials said.

"He has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here. Any claim to the contrary is unfounded."

Democratic Rep. Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn said she "was sickened by ComEd's admission that it used a bribery scheme to get favorable legislation passed by the General Assembly. If these allegations are true, I further call on Speaker Madigan and all others implicated in this scheme to do the right thing, right now, and step down from all positions of public trust."

Democratic Rep. Deb Conroy of Elmhurst said "corruption at any level of government is not acceptable. This culture needs to end, the dark cloud over all of our heads lifted."

Meanwhile, ComEd has settled with the feds but the utility "has a lot to answer for," Pritzker said.

"We're all asking some very serious questions of them. It's a utility that many people in Illinois rely on," he said at an Urbana event.

Pritzker also called for more ethics reforms.

"One thing is obvious, there apparently is something rotten in Denmark when it comes to certain lobbyists and the way they conduct their business ... we need to nip it in the bud."

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