An Illinois House committee on Monday ended its consideration of a breach of trust claim against House Speaker Michael Madigan, voting down further proceedings that could have led to discipline against the powerful Chicago Democrat.
The committee vote to authorize a charge against Madigan was 3-3, but Democratic control rendered the partisan tie a rejection. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin last summer filed documents seeking a charge of conduct unbecoming a legislatoragainst Madigan after federal prosecutors implicated the longtime leader in a bribery scheme involving ComEd.
But the committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside, abruptly closed the proceedings after scolding the committee's GOP members for initiating the proceedings to discredit Madigan and attempting to allow Durkin to grab the gavel. Madigan has been speaker for all but two of the past 37 years and is the longest-serving leader of any legislative body in U.S. history.
“This is nothing but politics. This is a sham show trial ...,” Welch said. “There’s not a self-respecting Democrat in this state who would vote for Jim Durkin to be speaker of this House.”
House Democrats in the upcoming General Assembly outnumber Republicans 73-45. While 19 Democrats have declared they will not support Madigan for a 19th term as speaker because of the scandal, it's unlikely Durkin could convince 15 of them to give control to the GOP for the first time since 1995.
ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and cooperate with U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s ongoing investigation after the utility giant admitted doling out $1.3 million in no-work jobs and subcontractsto Madigan allies in exchange for legislation favorable to the electric-power industry.
The 78-year-old Madigan has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing. Last month, four people, including ex-ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggirore and former lobbyist and longtime Madigan confidante Michael McLain, wereindicted on bribery and conspiracy charges in connection with the scheme. They pleaded not guilty. That followed the September guilty plea by a former ComEd vice president,Fidel Marquez.
The committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, continued to push Monday for committee-issued subpoenas to Madigan, McLain and others, but was again rebuffed. He denounced the procedure which saw just one witness testify, a vice president for Exelon, ComEd's parent, who volunteered to appear.
“It’s our job to conduct an investigation, not to have an open mic, where people can come and volunteer information if they so choose ...,” Demmer said. “One of the powers that’s delegated to the committee, in order to allow it to do its fundamental task is the power to issue a subpoena.”
Welch repeatedly pointed out that state law automatically grants immunity from prosecution to anyone who provides testimony in response to a subpoena from the General Assembly. While Lausch told the committee he did not oppose its issuance of subpoenas, Welch said he would clearly object to a grant of immunity.
Rep. Natalie Manley, a Democrat from Joliet, said, “We should leave the ComEd situation to a federal prosecutor and stop pretending like we’re junior G-Men here.”
Welch did authorize requesting from ComEd hundreds of documents related to the scandal, including hundreds of emails. They provided evidence of McLain going to extraordinary lengths to get ComEd to hire employees and a law firm that Madigan preferred, but they also showed an instance in which McLain pushed a candidate favored by Durkin.
“If Jim Durkin actually believes it is conduct unbecoming of a legislator to recommend people for jobs or help constituents, he might want to review his own hypocritical behavior,” Madigan said in a statement Monday evening.
The special investigating committee process is not intended as a criminal procedure. Had the committee authorized the charge against Madigan, a second committee would have been convened to deliberate a penalty, including expulsion.
The committee last prepared for action against former Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat, after he was charged with bribery, but disbanded after Arroyo resigned in November 2019. He has pleaded not guilty. In 2012, the process led to the expulsion of Chicago Democratic Rep. Derrick Smith for bribery, for which he later was sentenced to five months in prison. A similar process was used in 1905 to oust Rep. Frank Comerford, also a Chicago Democrat, for accusing his colleagues of corruption without evidence.