Illinois House ends Madigan investigation

Illinois House ends Madigan investigation

The Illinois House Special Investigating Committee did little that was special or investigative before ending their probe of Mike Madigan.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s peers ended their investigation into whether he engaged in “unbecoming conduct” as part of the ComEd bribery scandal, concluding he did nothing wrong.

Three Democrats on the Illinois House Special Investigating Committee on Dec. 14 advanced charges against Madigan, then all voted against them. The three Republicans on the committee voted for them.

With no majority, the charges are now dead.

Committee chairman, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, said Republicans instigated the House investigation as an act of political theater.

“It’s a stunt. It’s a joke. And that joke ends today,” Welch said.

Republicans fired back that the committee’s efforts were the joke.

“The special investigative committee exists for one reason: to conduct an investigation. No one here can say that a thorough investigation involves hearing from only one witness,” said Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon.

The committee’s single witness in three meetings was a Commonwealth Edison executive who confirmed most of the bribery scandal outlined by federal prosecutors. But the committee did release over 100 emails showing the same pattern of patronage jobs and contracts intended to influence Madigan as outlined in the prosecution agreement with ComEd.

The electric utility paid more than $1.3 million for what were often no-work jobs and contracts, allowing Madigan to name people for jobs from meter reader on up. ComEd admitted the payments were intended to win Madigan’s favor and backing for legislation worth over $150 million to the utility. ComEd agreed to a $200 million fine.

Federal agents are also probing whether AT&T, Walgreens and Rush University Medical Center used a stable of consultants with ties to Madigan as they pursued legislation in Springfield.

Madigan has denied wrongdoing and declined to testify before the committee. He claimed in a three-page letter that his job is helping people, including to get jobs.

While the special committee is over, Madigan still faces a battle to hold on as Illinois House speaker. Nineteen House Democrats have pledged they will not support him for another term, leaving him six votes shy of the 60 he will need on Jan. 13 to continue his 35-year reign as the longest-serving Statehouse speaker in U.S. history.

Madigan has worked to convince House Democrats they need his strong leadership to get through the legislative redistricting process and to shepherd a state income tax increase if Gov. J.B. Pritzker requests it. Before voters rejected Pritzker’s “fair tax,” his administration threatened a 20% increase for everyone if it failed.

Madigan convinced the Illinois House Black Caucus to keep him, winning support Dec. 9 from its 22 members, minus state Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, who is one of the 19 lawmakers refusing to back Madigan. Members said Madigan was their best hope of passing their legislative agenda based on the justice and race issues raised by the George Floyd killing and subsequent unrest.

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, is part of the anti-Madigan group and said she wants the speakership. But if Madigan is replaced, the Illinois House will be no better off unless it reforms the practices that allow him to treat state government like a feudal state.

Illinois should revamp the redistricting process, taking it out of the hands of lawmakers, reform the House Rules, strengthen ethics rules to mandate transparency and hold lawmakers accountable for their conflicts of interest, and free the legislative inspector general to investigate and publicize wrongdoing without hindrance from lawmakers.

If the feds or his peers remove Madigan, the system he built will need to be changed or another politician will just take advantage of his dynasty.

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