Republicans in the Illinois House of Representatives on Monday moved to create a special committee to investigate a deferred prosecution agreement that implicated powerful Speaker Michael Madigan in an alleged bribery scheme with ComEd that prosecutors say lasted nearly a decade.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and two other members of the chamber's GOP caucus filed a petition Monday under legislative rules to create a "special investigating committee" to look into the allegations that surfaced in the deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd, the state's largest utility, that was filed in July.
The petition notes that the committee's purpose will be to investigate the allegations as well as "determine discipline against Speaker Madigan, if any."
Madigan said in a statement Wednesday that he recused himself from the committee's proceedings and designated House Majority Leader Greg Harris to "handle all aspects of this matter."
Harris said in a statement that members of the House have the authority under the state''s Constitution to "review the actions of its members and determine whether discipline is necessary, including overturning the results of an election or expelling a member."
"This is a power that should be judiciously exercised, and one that has rarely been used," Harris said, noting it has been invoked on two occasions in the past two decades, after the arrests and indictments of former Reps. Derrick Smith and Luis Arroyo.
“This is a political process, not action by law enforcement, and the rules are not the same as a court proceeding," Harris said, adding, "The Speaker has not been accused of or charged with any criminal action or wrongdoing and is entitled to the presumption of innocence. With that said, it is important that we follow the process and provide the petitioners and the Speaker with an opportunity to address the petition."
Harris said he tapped Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch to chair the committee.
"Speaker Madigan is entitled to due process just like anyone else,” Welch said. “We’re going to make sure that the public, who has a right to know, will know what we’re doing, when we’re doing it and where we’re doing it.”
Democratic Reps. Elizabeth Hernandez and Natalie Manley will also serve on the committee. Republican Reps. Tom Demmer, Deanne Mazzochi and Grant Wehrli were also appointed, Harris said.
During a press conference Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he supported the process.
“There are questions that need to be answered by the speaker, and perhaps the creation of this legislative committee will actually get some of those answers,” he said.
The special committee was formed more than a month after federal prosecutors filed a deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd, in which investigators revealed that the utility company admitted to arranging jobs and payments for associates of an elected official, referred to only as “Public Official A," from 2011 to 2019 to curry favor with the official and ultimately pass legislation favorable to ComEd.
The court filing identifies "Public Official A" as "Speaker of the Illinois House and the longest serving member of the House of Representatives," a description that fits only Madigan.
"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 when the agreement with ComEd was announced on July 17.
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 million, the court filing says.
Prosecutors filed a one-count charge of bribery against ComEd, 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 the payment of a $200 million fine as well as continued cooperation with "ongoing investigation of individuals or other entities related to the conduct described in the bribery charge," among other requirements.
Madigan, the longest-serving statehouse speaker in U.S. history, has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing. He has denied involvement in the alleged scheme on multiple occasions, including in a blistering new statement issued Wednesday.
"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," he said, noting the "broad support" of both bills.
“The request by Rep. Durkin and his members is a political stunt only months away from one of the most consequential elections of our lifetimes," Madigan's statement reads.
"Republicans don’t want to focus on the fact that we have a federal administration that has used the White House to prop up Donald Trump’s wealthy campaign donors and friends at the expense of the American people. The Republicans don’t want people to focus on the nearly 200,000 COVID-19 deaths or the countless number of Illinoisans who have lost their jobs, healthcare coverage and retirement savings due to Trump’s mismanaged COVID-19 response. They certainly don’t want people to draw attention to the intense racial divisions Donald Trump relishes," he added.
“I can’t identify one thing Rep. Durkin and the Illinois Republican Party have done to help Illinois residents struggling from a global pandemic and a weakened economy," Madigan said. "Rather than focusing on ways to get us out of Donald Trump’s mess, Republicans have spent their time and dollars trying to convince people I am to blame for the type of corruption and unethical conduct Donald Trump emulates every day. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince people I am the problem so they don’t have to own up to their allegiance to Donald Trump and their political party."
Still, several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said in the weeks since the filing was made public that the appearance of impropriety alone was enough for them to say Madigan should resign.
Madigan said in a statement in late July that he had "no plans to resign" as calls for him to step down - from both his leadership position in the House and his role as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois - grew after the court filing was made public.
“I understand that the last couple of weeks have been difficult for our caucus and party, and I have had many candid conversations with members of the Democratic caucus on this matter," Madigan said at the time. "The feedback is positive and demonstrates continued support for me and my leadership roles. I have no plans to resign."