Investigative committee begins hearings into Madigan misconduct
It’s the third time in 20 years a committee has been formed to investigate misconduct by a state lawmaker. Day 1 was brief.
A bipartisan Illinois House committee began hearings Sept. 10 to investigate whether Speaker of the House Michael Madigan was involved in behavior unbecoming of a state lawmaker after he was implicated in federal bribery charges filed against ComEd in July.
The first day of the hearing wrapped up quickly after the committee voted to send a formal letter to the U.S. District Attorney’s office asking him whether the committee’s own investigation would interfere with the ongoing federal investigation into Madigan.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said he already received clearance from the attorney’s office to proceed with the hearings, but chairman Chris Welch, D-Chicago, was not swayed.
Welch adjourned the committee without setting the next meeting date. Republicans voiced scheduling concerns and were under the impression hearings would be held weekly.
In the only debate of the morning, state Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, pressed Durkin as to whether Madigan would have to be found guilty of criminal charges to be proven to have engaged in unbecoming conduct. Republican lawyer Ron Safer said the committee is deciding on Madigan’s behavior as a lawmaker, not on legal offences. He said there does not need to be proof of any crime for Madigan to have betrayed public trust.
Madigan called the committee a “political stunt,” but recused himself from the investigation, leaving Welch in charge. Madigan does have the right to appear with counsel in front of the committee if he chooses.
The hearings are not legal proceedings and cannot find Madigan to be legally charged or guilty of any crime. However, they can recommend discipline based on Madigan’s actions, which can include punishment as high as removal from the House, according to House Rule 91. Documents from the committee will be available to the public online.
Both Durkin and Welch agreed to follow the practices used in 2012, when former state Rep. Derrick Smith was ousted for criminal conduct. A committee was also formed to investigate state Rep. Luis Arroyo in 2019, but Arroyo resigned before hearings began.
Durkin was one of three Republican House members to bring charges against Madigan. They are accusing him of conduct “unbecoming to a legislator, or which constitutes a breach of public trust” for engaging in the ComEd bribery scheme.
The other members of the committee are Reps. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, and Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville.
Madigan denied doing anything wrong.
“As I have stated previously, I have never made a legislative decision with improper motives. The notion that the passage of two consequential pieces of energy legislation was tied to the hiring or retention of a few individuals is seriously mistaken,” Madigan said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he hopes the committee can find answers about Madigan’s behavior and encouraged anyone called to testify to provide answers. However, the governor has refused to join 10 other Democratic state lawmakers who have called for Madigan’s immediate resignation following the ComEd scandal.
“The speaker needs to speak up and answer these questions,” Pritzker said on Sept. 9. “The speaker owes us all answers.”
In July, federal prosecutors announced ComEd had been charged with a years-long bribery scheme that sought to “influence and reward” Madigan between 2011 and 2019 by arranging $1.3 million in jobs, contracts and payments to his political cronies.
Madigan was not charged as part of the case, but was identified in court documents as “Public Official A.” As part of the deal, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine, admit to seeking Madigan’s help in passing legislation worth more than $150 million to the utility and continue to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation into public corruption.
ComEd’s former vice president of governmental affairs, Fidel Marquez, was charged with bribery conspiracy Sept. 4, alleging he orchestrated the scheme to pay Madigan allies in exchange for the speaker’s support in Springfield. Charges via criminal information – as opposed to a grand jury indictment – indicate Marquez is likely to plead guilty.
State lawmakers from both parties and Democrats from across the state have called for Madigan to immediately resign his positions as House speaker and chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. Others, such as Pritzker, have made a milder call for him to resign if the allegations are true.
The Madigan corruption probe has complicated Pritzker’s appeal to voters for his “fair tax” on the Nov. 3 ballot. Madigan is the fifth key backer of a progressive tax to face corruption probes as voters are being asked to trust lawmakers with greater power to impose new taxes on retirees and tax hikes of up to 47% on over 100,000 small businesses that create most Illinois jobs.