Former Illinois lawmakers powered by energy interests
No Americans trust their state government less than Illinoisans.
Being home to the nation’s “corruption capitol” – the state’s northern federal district, which includes Chicago – and having governors serve prison time doesn’t help. But more broadly, the most corrosive force when it comes to the public trust is the commonplace use of political power for personal profit.
This might be most obvious in the property tax appeals racket. Good government groups have howled for years about the law practice of power brokers such as House Speaker Mike Madigan and Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward.
But another crushing blow comes when lawmakers who formulate policy from the Statehouse later lobby politicians on behalf of interests with the most to lose, or gain, from those very policies.
For many lawmakers voting on energy policy, an easy payday awaits.
Since 2000, at least two dozen former lawmakers have worked as lobbyists for ComEd or its parent company, Exelon, alone. A majority of those lawmakers served on their chamber’s energy or public utilities committees. Some even chaired those committees.
A few striking examples:
The late state Rep. Shirley Jones, D-Chicago, left office in 2003. She immediately began a decade-long tenure as a lobbyist for ComEd, according to filings with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office.
Jones was intimately familiar with ComEd in her role as the chair of what was then called the House Public Utility Committee. In fact, a Chicago Tribune investigation revealed Jones had awarded more than $21,000 worth of college tuition waivers to the stepson of a ComEd lobbyist during her chairmanship.
Jones wasn’t alone in using her leadership post as a stepping stone to lobbying work for the energy industry.
Former state Rep. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago, chaired the House Public Utilities Committee before being appointed to a two-year gig as a state senator. She left office in 2013, and has worked as a lobbyist of ComEd each year since 2014. And former chair of the House Environment & Energy Committee, Democrat state Rep. Phil Novak, lobbied for ComEd or Exelon from 2007 to 2011.
GOP lawmakers have played this game, too.
Republican state Sen. William Mahar chaired the Senate Environment & Energy Committee for two terms, and went on to lobby for ComEd for a decade, between 2003 to 2012. Late Republican state Rep. Vince Persico served as the chair of the Environment & Energy Committee, and later lobbied on behalf of ComEd from 2002 to 2016.
Former Republican state Sen. Dave Sullivan, once the minority spokesperson of the Energy & Environment Committee, also later lobbied on behalf of ComEd.
Time will tell if any current lawmakers involved with energy policy plan to take a payday on the other side of the bargaining table.
In the meantime, Illinoisans should keep a spotlight on the Statehouse.