Illinois was most corrupt of 10 largest states under Madigan’s reign
Illinois averaged over one federal public corruption conviction a week during the Madigan era. That is the most convictions per capita among the top 10 most populous states between 1983 and 2018.
During Michael Madigan’s tenure as speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, Illinois ranked most corrupt among the top 10 most populous states in the country, federal data shows.
Madigan was first elected speaker in 1983 and has held the office every year except two since then. Throughout his tenure, there have been numerous scandals, including the $1.3 million bribery scheme involving utility company Commonwealth Edison, currently being investigated by federal authorities. Federal investigators appear to be circling Madigan, and the pressure may have cost him the leadership role he spent decades building into the state’s most powerful position.
Illinois House Democrats are breaking ranks and supporting other candidates for speaker, with a vote set for Jan. 13. Both U.S. Senators and Gov. J.B. Pritzker want Madigan out as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.
Madigan denied turning ComEd into a patronage haven of no-work jobs, as the utility’s prosecution agreement and internal emails portray. He responded to the federal indictment of his close confidant and three others for a scheme to bribe him by hiring his cronies by declaring there is “nothing wrong or illegal about making job recommendations.”
While the ComEd investigation may be what finally dethrones Madigan, it is far from his first scandal. He survived the others: a racially discriminatory legislative map, a University of Illinois admissions scandal, waiting to disclose his law firm’s involvement during a state bailout of McCormick Place, a Metra patronage scandal and allegations of a culture of sexual harassment in his office and among his political operatives.
But Illinois has suffered more than anywhere else from this culture of corruption.
During Madigan’s tenure as speaker, the average number of federal public corruption convictions per capita in Illinois was the worst among large states, according to U.S. Department of Justice numbers. The state averaged over a corruption conviction a week, for a total of 1,978 from 1983 until 2018, according to the most recent data.
A recent Illinois Policy Institute report found illegal corruption in Illinois from 2000 to 2017 cost the state $550 million every year in lost economic growth. But that is just a portion of the time Madigan has wielded power in the state. Plus, corruption has cost Illinois more than economic growth – it has cost residents faith in their government. By 2016, Illinoisans had the lowest trust in their government of any state’s residents, according to Gallup polls.
This lack of trust has not gone unnoticed by Illinois Democrats, who despite national gains suffered significant defeats in Illinois on Nov. 3. They failed to pass Pritzker’s “fair tax” constitutional amendment, lost an Illinois Supreme Court retention race for the first time since the state began the practice and lost one seat in the Illinois House. Madigan’s legacy of corruption is dragging the party down, which is preventing him from getting the 60 votes he needs to hold on to the speakership.
The House cannot conduct any other business until a speaker is elected. In 1975, the scramble for a new speaker lasted two weeks and 93 votes before a compromise was reached.
Political bosses are not new in Illinois, but Madigan raised their practices to high art. The cost is carried by millions of Illinoisans living with and paying for the culture of corruption that has become synonymous with Madigan and the state.
Removing Madigan is only the first step needed to get Illinois out of its current spiral. Illinois is sorely in need of ethics reform: fair legislative maps, an independent Legislative Inspector General, an end to lawmaker lobbying and the revolving door, more transparency in lawmakers’ financial disclosures, and reform to the procedural rules that govern the House.
Those reforms are much likelier once Madigan is out of the speaker’s chair. Members of the Illinois House of Representatives then have an opportunity to make a clean break with Illinois’ history of corruption by reforming how they do business so a Madigan clone does not emerge. They should seize that opportunity.