FBI asking about Madigan money, political clout in corruption investigation
There is little doubt the FBI is targeting the longtime House speaker and Democratic political boss in their sweeping investigation of Illinois corruption.
Federal authorities have taken a keen interest in Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, according to a Dec. 5 report from the Chicago Tribune.
Four individuals questioned by FBI agents and prosecutors told Tribune reporters Ray Long and Jason Meisner that authorities questioned them about a number of issues involving Madigan. Topics included connections between the speaker and Commonwealth Edison lobbyists, contracts doled out by lobbyists to Madigan associates, and jobs for Madigan allies at various levels of state and local government throughout Illinois.
In addition, Crain’s Chicago Business reported Dec. 6 that federal authorities are believed to be investigating annual six-figure fundraisers for the Democratic Party of Illinois facilitated by ComEd. Madigan has been the chairman of the state party organization since 1998, and was first elected speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives in 1983.
Madigan is the most powerful state lawmaker in the nation.
That power comes from extremely lopsided legislative rules that allow him to block key legislation on his own, control over the state’s legislative maps, and his dual role as speaker and party chairman, which no other state legislative leader in the country enjoys.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has thus far been unwilling to push for substantial ethics reform in Springfield, despite Illinois standing as the second-most corrupt state in the U.S. and corruption costing the state economy at least $550 million per year.
Illinois state lawmakers should adopt a number of ethics reforms common in other states, and recommended by a 2009 state panel convened in the wake of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s indictment on corruption charges, including:
- Adopting revolving door restrictions on state lawmakers becoming lobbyists.
- Empowering the Illinois legislative inspector general to investigate lawmaker corruption. As is, this muzzled watchdog office must seek approval from a panel of state lawmakers before opening investigations, issuing subpoenas and even publishing summary reports.
- Mandating state lawmakers recuse themselves from votes in which they have a conflict of interest. There is no current state law or even parliamentary rule requiring Illinois lawmakers to disclose a conflict of interest or to excuse themselves from voting on issues where they have personal or private financial interests.
- Reforming the Illinois House rules, which grant more concentrated power to the House speaker than any other legislative rules in the country.
- Using objective scoring criteria for capital projects, akin to Virginia’s Smart Scale model. This ensures infrastructure dollars are directed by need rather than clout.
- Passing a bipartisan constitutional amendment to end politically drawn legislative maps in Illinois.
Until Springfield tackles meaningful anticorruption reforms, political leaders should not be surprised that many Illinoisans are skeptical of sending more tax revenue to state government. Nearly half of Illinois voters see Pritzker’s progressive income tax hike as a blank check, rather than a “fair tax.”