In response to today’s guilty verdict in the federal corruption of former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, lobbyist Mike McClain, former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, and former lobbyist and City Club president Jay Doherty Better Government Association President David Greising said the following:
“The jury’s guilty verdict on all counts strikes a blow against the culture of corruption that for years has robbed Illinois residents of their right to an honest and accountable government. It is a flat rejection of the claim that the systematic effort to corruptly influence House Speaker Mike Madigan was just ‘politics as usual.’ The jury spoke for all Illinoisans in demanding better from government officials, as well as from businesses and lobbyists who seek to influence policies that affect all Illinoisans, not just the connected, powerful and wealthy among us.”
The trial hinged on detailed arguments of what constitutes a bribe versus what is simply the normal order of doing business in Illinois. Central to the government’s case against ComEd executives and lobbyists was an allegation that the utility improperly sought to influence Michael J. Madigan, then Speaker of the Illinois House, by creating no-work lobbyist jobs and other inducements, all made possible by the revolving door between legislators, their campaign and office staff, lobbyist payrolls and the boards of state-regulated industries during Madigan’s long reign as Speaker. Jurors found the defendants guilty on all counts.
While the state’s lobbying oversight and transparency laws have been strengthened somewhat since the conduct that was put on trial, far more needs to be done. The defendant’s case relied heavily on the blurry lines between illegal influence and legal lobbying activity. Limited financial disclosures, short cooling-off periods between elected office and lobbying jobs, and “honor system” conflict-of-interest recusals in the legislation all contribute to the overly cozy relationships in Springfield between regulators and the regulated that were put on display at the “ComEd Four” trial.
Recommendations from the Better Government Association’s state policy agenda would strengthen public disclosure for lobbyists and legislators, lengthen the cooling-off period before former legislators can lobby their onetime colleagues (and be hired by state-regulated industries to do so), and require legislators with an economic interest to publicly recuse themselves from relevant votes.
“This is about both conduct and culture,” said BGA Policy Director Bryan Zarou. “Legislators need to be kept in the public spotlight. It shouldn’t be just a question of what’s federally prosecutable. Transparency and disclosure can do as much to set clear, bright lines between legislative, regulatory, and lobbying work as criminal charges, and that’s what the BGA’s policy agenda is all about.”
The Better Government Association is a 99-year-old civic watchdog that seeks better government through investigative journalism, policy reforms and civic engagement efforts that lead to more open, equitable and accountable government. The policy team and investigative unit operate independently of one another, while both seek to advance the cause of better government in Chicago and across Illinois.