Madigan and ComEd are at the center of federal heat

Illinois Policy
By Austin Berg

Federal agents in May raided the homes of three individuals across Illinois with close ties to House Speaker Mike Madigan and utility giant Commonwealth Edison.

But a new subpoena served during that spree has come to light courtesy of WBEZ, which on Oct. 20 published a story on federal activity at an esteemed Chicago public affairs organization.

The players at hand in the May raids remind Illinoisans how entire industries in the state are dependent on the speaker’s gavel. And thus, how it pays to be close to the Democratic Party chairman.

According to WBEZ’s source, a federal grand jury subpoena requested City Club of Chicago correspondence with between 10 and 20 individuals, including Madigan. The club, which hosts events on politics and public policy, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Neither has Madigan. Specifically, officials raided the offices of City Club of Chicago President Jay Doherty, who has also worked as a lobbyist on behalf of ComEd.

WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune reported the raid was part of an investigation into whether the energy utility made clout-heavy hiring decisions in exchange for actions at the Statehouse, including rate increases. Anne Pramaggiore abruptly resigned in October from her post as CEO of Exelon, ComEd’s parent company, following news that a federal grand jury subpoenaed the companies for documents related to their Springfield lobbying activity.

She’s not the only one seeking shelter from the federal spotlight.

Federal agents in mid-May raided the Western Illinois home of one of Madigan’s closest allies, former state lawmaker and lobbyist Mike McClain. Authorities knocked on McClain’s door around the same time they executed search warrants at the homes of two other close Madigan allies: former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski and former Madigan political lieutenant Kevin Quinn.

All three have close ties to ComEd.

First, McClain.

More than any other political figure, McClain is known to have Madigan’s ear, often dining and traveling with the speaker. He served as assistant minority leader under Madigan from 1981 to 1983 and was formerly a Springfield lobbyist for some of the state’s most powerful interest groups, including ComEd.

McClain retired from lobbying in 2016. He originally planned to retire in 2015, but efforts to extend subsidies to two nuclear power plants in Illinois owned by Exelon kept him in Springfield. He ultimately got the deal passed through the General Assembly, raising rates on ComEd customers by between 25 cents and $4.54 a month.

Second, Zalewski.

He served as an alderman for 20 years in Chicago’s 23rd Ward, which overlaps with Madigan’s 22nd House District on Chicago’s Southwest Side. The Zalewski raid was part of a probe into “efforts to get work for Zalewski” at ComEd, as well as “interactions” between Zalewski, Madigan, and McClain, according to the Better Government Association and WBEZ.

Also within Madigan’s district is 13th Ward Chicago Ald. Marty Quinn, whose brother Kevin, a former high-ranking political lieutenant for the speaker, saw his home searched by federal authorities in May. Federal agents are investigating $10,000 in payments to Kevin Quinn from accounts linked to five current or former lobbyists for ComEd, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Madigan ousted Quinn from his political organization in 2018 after campaign worker Alaina Hampton publicly accused him of sexual harassment. But after his firing, Quinn was still able to pull in money from Illinois lobbyists whose success often depends on the speaker. The checks to Quinn came from accounts linked to five current or former lobbyists for ComEd, including McClain.

ComEd provides a great employment program for retired Illinois lawmakers looking to peddle influence.

At least two dozen former Illinois state lawmakers have lobbied on behalf of ComEd or Exelon since 2000, according to a 2017 analysis from the Illinois Policy Institute. A majority of those lawmakers served on their chamber’s energy or public utilities committees. Some even chaired those committees, including McClain, who was chairman of the House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee from 1979 to 1980.

Illinois is one of only 11 states that do not have “revolving door” laws forbidding lawmakers from lobbying once they leave office, according to a report compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But despite the cost and damage Illinois faces from corruption, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has done little to address it.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot ran on an anti-corruption platform and has already pushed several key reforms through the City Council. Pritzker should follow Lightfoot’s lead by backing a number of commonsense corruption reforms in the wake of scandals across the state, including:

Illinoisans shouldn’t have to wait for federal raids to curb corruption at the capitol.