FBI wiretapped cellphone of close Madigan confidant
The FBI wiretap of Mike McClain's phone is an indication authorities could be looking into criminal activity between House Speaker Mike Madigan and utility giant ComEd.
Federal agents in mid-May raided the home of one of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s closest allies, former state lawmaker and Commonwealth Edison lobbyist Mike McClain.
It turns out agents were listening in on McClain as well, according to the Chicago Tribune.
A source with knowledge of the investigation told the Tribune that the FBI wiretapped McClain’s cellphone. In order to secure a wiretap from a federal judge, investigators must show proof a specific crime was committed by the target using a particular phone, and provide updates to the judge every 10 days proving they have gathered evidence of criminal activity.
More than any other political figure, McClain is known to have Madigan’s ear, often dining and traveling with the speaker. He served as assistant minority leader under Madigan from 1981 to 1983 and was formerly a Springfield lobbyist for some of the state’s most powerful interest groups, including ComEd.
McClain retired from lobbying in 2016. “I feel like I’m very close to [Madigan] and I love him like a brother, and I’m loyal to him,” McClain told the State Journal-Register at the time. He originally planned to retire in 2015, but efforts to extend subsidies to two nuclear power plants in Illinois owned by Exelon kept him in Springfield.
McClain helped pass an Exelon deal that raised rates on ComEd customers by between 25 cents and $4.54 a month. One Democratic state representative at the time joked that energy industry lobbyists “probably made a lot of money this last year or two,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Federal agents are also investigating $10,000 in payments to former high-ranking Madigan political aide Kevin Quinn from accounts linked to five current or former lobbyists for ComEd, including McClain.
Madigan ousted Quinn from his political organization in 2018 after campaign worker Alaina Hampton accused him of sexual harassment. In a statement, the speaker acknowledged Quinn, who worked for Madigan for nearly 20 years, “engaged in inappropriate conduct and failed to exercise the professional judgment I expect of those affiliated with my political organizations and the Office of the Speaker.”
But after his firing, Quinn was still able to pull in money from Illinois lobbyists whose success often depends on the speaker’s gavel.
The checks to Quinn came from accounts linked to five current or former lobbyists for ComEd, according to the Tribune, including:
- $1,000 from McClain, whose wife signed the check from the couple’s joint bank account.
- $1,000 from Tom Cullen, a former Madigan political operative and current lobbyist.
- $2,000 from Chicago City Hall lobbyist and former Metropolitan Water Reclamation District board member Michael Alvarez.
- $2,000 from Cornerstone Government Affairs, a lobbying firm that employs former Madigan political director Will Cousineau.
- $4,000 from former Democratic state Rep. John Bradley’s law firm. The southern Illinois lawmaker is a former member of Madigan’s House leadership team.
Authorities raided McClain and Quinn’s homes around the same time they executed a search warrant at the home of another close Madigan ally with ties to ComEd: former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski.
Zalewski served as an alderman for 20 years in Chicago’s 23rd Ward, which overlaps with Madigan’s 22nd House District on Chicago’s Southwest Side. That district has re-elected Madigan to the Illinois House of Representatives every two years since 1970.
The Zalewski raid was part of a probe into “efforts to get work for Zalewski” at ComEd, as well as “interactions” between Zalewski, Madigan, and McClain, according to the Better Government Association and WBEZ.
ComEd and its parent company Exelon have received two grand jury subpoenas in recent months, including one that asked for communications with state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, according to Chicago. Sandoval’s Senate district overlaps with Madigan’s House district.
Sandoval, a chief architect of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s record gas tax hike and capital bill earlier this year, saw his home and government offices raided by the FBI in September.
Illinois is one of only 11 states that do not have “revolving door” laws forbidding lawmakers from lobbying once they leave office, according to a report compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
At least two dozen former Illinois state lawmakers have lobbied on behalf of ComEd or Exelon since 2000, according to a 2017 analysis from the Illinois Policy Institute. A majority of those lawmakers served on their chamber’s energy or public utilities committees. Some even chaired those committees, including McClain, who was chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee from 1979 to 1980.
Illinois only places restrictions on former lawmakers who worked on state procurement contracts for a year after leaving office, and has no general laws preventing lobbying by former lawmakers.
Stalled reform efforts
Despite the cost and damage Illinois faces from corruption, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has done little to address it.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ran on an anti-corruption platform and has already pushed several key reforms through the City Council. They include granting expanded powers to the city inspector general, limiting outside employment for aldermen, calling for independently drawn political maps, and increasing penalties for ethics violations.
Pritzker should back a number of commonsense corruption reforms in the wake of scandals across the state, including:
- Strengthened revolving door restrictions on state lawmakers
- Empowering the Illinois legislative inspector general, which is a muzzled watchdog office that must seek approval from state lawmakers before opening a corruption investigation in the Illinois General Assembly
- Mandating state lawmakers recuse themselves from votes in which they have a conflict of interest
- Reforming the Illinois House rules, which grant more concentrated power to the House speaker than any 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
Ethics reform in Springfield should be a priority not just for the governor, but for all elected officials.
For an updated list of of individuals and organizations that have been questioned, targeted, investigated, indicted or convicted as part of law enforcement’s anti-corruption activity in Illinois in 2019, visit the 2019 Illinois corruption tracker.