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Mike Drop: Illinois Democrats react to Madigan indictment following years-long investigation

Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan during a session day in early 2020.
Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan during a session day in early 2020.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 9:11 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - The Illinois Capitol Complex was abuzz Wednesday afternoon after reporters, lawmakers, and lobbyists heard that the longest-serving legislative leader in US history was indicted. Michael J. Madigan faces federal racketeering charges surrounding bribery schemes spanning nearly a decade while he was still Speaker of the House.

This comes after a federal investigation that spanned over two years with several of Madigan’s closest allies already charged. Madigan, the most powerful man in Illinois politics, and former lobbyist Mike McClain were indicted in the same public corruption case Wednesday.

The indictment states Madigan conspired to solicit and demand jobs, contracts, and other bribes from Commonwealth Edison in return for his guarantee to pass favorable bills for the large utility company. Madigan is charged with racketeering conspiracy and counts of using interstate facilities to help with bribery, wire fraud, and attempted extortion. McClain, a Quincy native and close confidant of Madigan, is also charged with racketeering conspiracy and counts of using facilities to facilitate bribery and wire fraud.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch Jr. announced the charges during a highly-anticipated press conference in Chicago.

“The indictment also accuses Madigan of engaging in multiple schemes to secure business for his law firm, including work from parties with businesses before the state of Illinois and Chicago,” Lausch explained.

He also noted that the indictment describes a long-term multi-faceted scheme to use public positions for unlawful gain, including no-show or low show jobs for Madigan’s political workers.

Gov. JB Pritzker responded to the reports about Madigan during an unrelated press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“Anybody who is guilty of corruption or corrupt acts should be held, to the fullest extent of the law, accountable for their actions,” Pritzker said.

House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch chaired the special legislative investigation into Madigan’s alleged wrongdoing with ComEd throughout 2020. Madigan later handpicked Welch to become the next Speaker after announcing he would not run for re-election to the leadership role.

The Gray TV Capitol Bureau asked Welch what he can say to people who considered him to be too close to Madigan. Welch said the legislative forum was the wrong place to investigate Madigan and he’s glad things moved to the courts.

“The proper forum was in a court of law led by the United States Attorney. And that process is playing out, as it should be, under our constitution,” Welch said. “And so, I think I did my job. I think I did it openly, honestly, and fairly. And we’re going to continue to do that.”

Federal prosecutors said Madigan and McClain were involved in the “Madigan Enterprise” that enhanced the former Speaker’s political power and financial well-being while also creating income for close allies.

The 19 House Democrats who called for Madigan to resign during the ComEd investigation also responded to the indictment Wednesday night. This group was frequently criticized by other veterans in the Democratic caucus for stepping forward to call for change in House leadership.

Rep. Terra Costa Howard (D-Lombard) recalled her experience calling for the corruption to end in the House during the summer of 2020. She said the 19 stood alongside each other, either in person or through encouraging messages between each other.

“This was not easy for any of us,” Costa Howard said. “But at the end of the day, I know that I can look my daughters in the face and tell them doing what’s right isn’t always easy but doing what’s right is the right thing to do.”

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) said they faced intense pressure to keep the status quo in the chamber, but the 19 couldn’t let that happen.

“This is about Speaker Madigan and what he did, and to what extent he influenced the culture of this building,” Cassidy said. “The first thing you do when you get cancer is you cut out the cancer. Then you treat what happened afterward.”

The 19 said they are still most concerned with how Illinois lawmakers can restore trust in government. Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (D-Naperville) argued people should know their lawmakers are heading to Springfield to do work for their constituents instead of trying to have unyielding power over others.

Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford) said he had a mix of emotions after finding out about the indictment. West was a relatively new member of the House when he joined the chorus of members calling for Madigan’s resignation. He now serves on the Legislative Ethics Commission and is glad to see the “culture of corruption” is changing.

But could more be done to address ethics under the dome?

“I think we’re on the right momentum towards stronger ethics reforms for our state,” West said. “I was able to get our new Legislative Inspector General appointed a couple weeks ago. So we’re on the verge of positive momentum. I’m still committed, myself personally, to whatever needs to be done to get rid of the weak spots of our ethics.”

West said at the end of the day, lawmakers shouldn’t be trying to protect legislative leaders. He said any new legislation should push to renew the public’s trust in state government.

“If any of my colleagues think it should be the other way around, it’s time for them to go,” West added.

An arraignment for Madigan and McClain is not scheduled at this time. Meanwhile, Madigan claims he was never involved in any criminal activity.

“The government is attempting to criminalize a routine constituent service: job recommendations. That is not illegal, and these other charges are equally unfounded,” Madigan wrote. “Throughout my 50 years as a public servant, I worked to address the needs of my constituents, always keeping in mind the high standards required and the trust the public placed in me. I adamantly deny these accusations and look back proudly on my time as an elected official, serving the people of Illinois.”

For now, all eyes will be on the federal courthouse in Chicago for updates on the future hearings for the disgraced Speaker.

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