Pritzker Says Madigan Must Resign If Allegations in ComEd Bribery Scheme Are True

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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday that powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan "must resign" if allegations appearing to implicate him in a bribery scheme with ComEd are true.

"If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust and he must resign therefore," Pritzker said at a news conference, bringing up of his own accord, at an unrelated event, ComEd's delayed prosecution agreement announced earlier in the day.

ComEd will pay $200 million as part of a deal to resolve a federal criminal investigation into a bribery scheme in which investigators say the utility company admitted to arranging jobs and payments for associates of an elected official, referred to only as “Public Official A," for nearly a decade, prosecutors announced Friday.

The agreement filed in court Friday identifies that elected official as "Speaker of the Illinois House and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives," a description that seems only to fit Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

A spokeswoman for Madigan issued a statement Friday afternoon on behalf of the state's most powerful lawmaker, denying any wrongdoing while confirming that he had been subpoenaed and would cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

ComEd "arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts, and monetary payments associated with those jobs and subcontracts, for various associates of a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois, to influence and reward the official’s efforts to assist ComEd with respect to legislation concerning ComEd and its business," the office of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch said in a statement early Friday.

"I have read several of the articles today and I am deeply troubled and frankly, I'm furious with what is being reported," Pritzker said. "The speaker has a lot that he needs to answer for: to authorities, to investigators and most importantly to the people of Illinois."

"These allegations strike at the core of what public service means. It's a high calling, public service. It's a high calling, one in which we serve with a sacred trust to put the people first," he continued, urging Madigan to "fully cooperate with the investigation and answer all questions as quickly as possible."

The largest electric utility in Illinois "understood that, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Public Official A was able to exercise control over what measures were called for a vote in the House of Representatives and had substantial influence and control over fellow lawmakers concerning legislation, including legislation that affected ComEd," the court filing reads.

Thus, ComEd admitted to engaging in efforts "to influence and reward" Public Official A beginning in around 2011 and continuing through 2019, prosecutors say.

"The company admitted that it arranged for jobs and vendor subcontracts for Public Official A’s political allies and workers even in instances where those people performed little or no work that they were purportedly hired by ComEd to perform," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.

"In addition to the jobs and contracts, ComEd further admitted that it undertook other efforts to influence and reward Public Official A, including by appointing an individual to ComEd’s Board of Directors at the request of Public Official A; retaining a particular law firm at the request of Public Official A; and accepting into the company’s internship program a certain amount of students who resided in the Chicago ward where Public Official A was associated," the statement continues.

In exchange, prosecutors said the General Assembly "considered bills and passed legislation that had a substantial impact on ComEd’s operations and profitability, including legislation that affected the regulatory process used to determine the electricity rates ComEd charged its customers."

ComEd acknowledged to investigators that the "anticipated benefits" of the legislation favorable to the utility company exceeded $150,000,000, the court filing says.

"We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior. In the past, some of ComEd’s lobbying practices and interactions with public officials did not live up to that commitment," Exelon CEO Christopher M. Crane said in a statement. "When we learned about the inappropriate conduct, we acted swiftly to investigate. We concluded from the investigation that a small number of senior ComEd employees and outside contractors orchestrated this misconduct, and they no longer work for the company. Since then, we have taken robust action to aggressively identify and address deficiencies, including enhancing our compliance governance and our lobbying policies to prevent this type of conduct. We apologize for the past conduct that didn’t live up to our own values, and we will ensure this cannot happen again.” 

Prosecutors filed a one-count charge of bribery against ComEd Friday, as well as a deferred prosecution agreement in which the U.S. Attorney's office will delay prosecution on the charge for three years then seek to dismiss it if ComEd abides by certain conditions. Those conditions include continued cooperation with "ongoing investigation of individuals or other entities related to the conduct described in the bribery charge," as well as the payment of the $200 million fine, among other requirements.

ComEd cannot seek to recover the fine through customer surcharges or take a tax deduction, Lausch said. The agreement is subject to court approval, prosecutors say, though a court date has not been set.

Pritzker called the revelations in the agreement "very upsetting" and pushed for a package of ethics reforms for state government.

"When I think about the possibility of people committing these kinds of wrongdoings, I think people who are in public service need to live up to the integrity of the job that they're asked to do," he said.

"I have called for robust action on ethics reform in the state, there needs to be a comprehensive package," he continued, highlighting a set of reforms passed in the legislative veto session in 2019.

"The beginnings of that ethics reform focused on lobbyist disclosures. I think that's hugely important but it's only a beginning and I've been calling for much more stringent measures, for example increased transparency around lobbyist disclosure, prohibiting lawmakers from being lobbyists - that seems like a no-brainer to me," Pritzker said. "And we need to stop the revolving door of legislators being able to leave office and just turn around and become a lobbyist right away or a consultant, by another name."

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