Madigan confidant used state worker’s silence on rape to prove political loyalty
Silence on a rape and about ghost workers were evidence of political loyalty that should save a state worker facing discipline, according to an email uncovered in an open records request.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s confidant and workhorse, Mike McClain, tried to leverage a state employee’s silence about a rape and ghost payrolling to save the worker’s job, according to an email obtained by WBEZ reporters.
“He has kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items. He is loyal to the Administration,” McClain wrote in the email July 31, 2012, about state employee Forrest Ashby.
Ashby left his state job in 2018 and went to work for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s campaign doing “faith-based outreach” as a $5,000-a-month consultant, after being recommended by McClain. A Pritzker spokesperson told WBEZ the administration sent McClain’s email to the “appropriate investigatory authority,” but declined to identify the specific office.
McClain is a former lobbyist and has been a close friend to Madigan since the 1970s when they started their political careers in the Illinois General Assembly. Federal agents raided McClain’s Quincy, Illinois, home in May, and are probing $10,000 in payments to a Madigan political lieutenant after he was fired in 2018 for sexual harassment of a campaign worker, the Chicago Tribune reported.
In the email McClain was writing to top aides of ex-Gov. Pat Quinn seeking leniency for Ashby, who was an administrator for a state facility housing sexually violent prisoners. While no response from the aides was included in the radio reporters’ open records request, McClain wrote a follow-up email the next day thanking them when Ashby’s disciplinary hearing was delayed: “Nothing happens accidentally.”
Ashby and McClain are both from Quincy. McClain recommended Ashby for the job connecting Pritzker’s campaign to the religious community, WBEZ reported. Ashby is currently making $40 an hour as a consultant to the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.
More than any other political figure, McClain has Madigan’s ear, often dining and traveling with him. McClain’s ready access to the speaker made him a powerful lobbyist, with clients including power company Commonwealth Edison.
“These are extremely serious and troubling allegations,” Madigan said in a Jan. 8 press release. “I had no knowledge of the incident referenced in the story and only learned of this today. I encourage those with any information to come forward.”
Details about the rape to which McClain referred have yet to emerge. The reference to “Jones’ ghost employees” is unclear, but Ashby worked for former Senate President Emil Jones’ wife.
Whether the multiple federal investigations of those close to Madigan ever reaches the speaker himself remains to be seen, but Illinois lawmakers need to examine a political culture that values a state job over justice for a rape victim.
Illinois is measurably the second-most corrupt state in the nation, with four of the past eight governors landing in prison. Besides the warped, morally bankrupt system created by insider dealing and concentrated power, corruption costs the state economy at least $550 million a year.
Pritzker is right that this case must be investigated, but now is the time for him to lead on corruption reforms and for state lawmakers to embrace them. The Illinois Policy Institute supports the following anti-corruption reforms, many from a 2009 state report released after the indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich:
- Adopting revolving door restrictions on state lawmakers becoming lobbyists.
- Empowering the Illinois legislative inspector general to investigate lawmaker corruption. As is, this muzzled watchdog office must seek approval from a panel of state lawmakers before opening investigations, issuing subpoenas and even publishing summary reports.
- Mandating state lawmakers recuse themselves from votes in which they have a conflict of interest. There is no current state law or even parliamentary rule requiring Illinois lawmakers to disclose a conflict of interest or to excuse themselves from voting on issues where they have personal or private financial interests.
- Reforming the Illinois House rules, which grant more concentrated power to the House speaker than any other legislative rules in the country.
- Using objective scoring criteria for capital projects, akin to Virginia’s Smart Scale model. This ensures infrastructure dollars are directed by need rather than clout.
- Passing a bipartisan constitutional amendment to end politically drawn legislative maps in Illinois.
Spring cleaning includes taking furniture outside so sunshine can sanitize, which is the idea behind “sunshine laws” such as the one used to expose McClain’s offensive email. State lawmakers should get an early start on spring cleaning at the Statehouse – before FBI agents sweep it out for them.