Federal agents looking for Madigan documents in ComEd probe

Federal agents looking for Madigan documents in ComEd probe

As previously undisclosed subpoena adds another angle to federal agents’ activity surrounding the longtime House speaker and chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Federal agents in May raided the homes of three individuals across Illinois with close ties to House Speaker Mike Madigan and utility giant Commonwealth Edison.

But a new subpoena served during that spree has come to light courtesy of WBEZ, which on Oct. 20 published a story on federal activity at an esteemed Chicago public affairs organization.

According to WBEZ’s source, a federal grand jury subpoena requested City Club of Chicago correspondence with between 10 and 20 individuals, including Madigan. The club, which hosts events on politics and public policy, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Neither has Madigan.

Specifically, officials raided the offices of City Club of Chicago President Jay Doherty, who has also worked as a lobbyist on behalf of ComEd. WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune reported the raid was part of an investigation into whether the energy utility made clout-heavy hiring decisions in exchange for actions at the Statehouse, including rate increases.

The CEO of Exelon, ComEd’s parent company, abruptly resigned in October following news that a federal grand jury subpoenaed the companies for documents related to their Springfield lobbying activity.

Raids on Madigan’s inner circle 

Federal agents in mid-May raided the Western Illinois home of one of Madigan’s closest allies, former state lawmaker and lobbyist Mike McClain. Authorities knocked on McClain’s door around the same time they executed search warrants at the homes of two other close Madigan allies: former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski and former Madigan political lieutenant Kevin Quinn.

All three have ties to ComEd.

McClain and ComEd

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.

“[W]e had the Exelon bill come up, and my friend Mike Madigan was facing some tough times, and so [the retirement] kind of got put on hold,” McClain told the Quincy Herald-Whig.

McClain helped pass the Exelon deal, which 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.

Zalewski and ComEd

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.

Also within Madigan’s district is 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, whose brother Kevin saw his home searched by federal authorities in May.

Quinn and ComEd

Federal agents are 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, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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.

Revolving door

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.

The other states without “revolving door” laws include Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. Even among these states, many have more restrictions than Illinois on what lawmakers can do after leaving office.

For example, in Kansas there is a two-year limit if a lawmaker was involved in any contracts made between the state and a prospective employer. Michigan has a ban on lobbying, but only for politicians who resign from office.

While these restrictions are still weak compared to the rest of the nation, they are much stronger than the few laws in Illinois. 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

Ethics reform in Springfield should be a priority not just for the governor, but for all elected officials.

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