Madigan at Center of Federal Case Against ComEd

Criminal case against utility giant follows more than a year of reporting, including by the BGA, about the federal investigation.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was implicated by federal authorities on Friday in a “years-long bribery scheme” that involved utility giant Commonwealth Edison steering contracts, jobs and payments to Madigan allies.

The disclosure came in a pair of court filings that accused ComEd of bribery. The utility company agreed to pay a $200 million fine and continue cooperating with federal investigators in the ongoing probe. Madigan was not charged with any wrongdoing.

The filings sent shockwaves across Illinois and follow scores of revelations about the continuing federal probe that has touched politicians from nearly every corner of the state.

But publicly centering on Madigan is a major turn in the investigation. Over a half-century in politics, the 78-year-old Madigan has risen to the pinnacle of power in Illinois. He is the nation’s longest-serving state House speaker, having been a member since 1971 and speaker for every year but two since 1983, and has headed the state Democratic Party for decades. His vast influence in state and city government is well documented, including his practice of securing both private and public jobs for his loyalists.

Madigan on Friday denied any wrongdoing in a statement released through a public relations firm. 

“This morning the speaker accepted subpoenas related to his various offices for documents, asking for, among other things, documents related to possible job recommendations,” the statement read. “He will cooperate and respond to those requests for documents, which he believes will clearly demonstrate that he has done nothing criminal or improper.”

The filings also come more than a year after the Better Government Association and WBEZ first reported ComEd’s involvement in the sweeping corruption probe after federal agents raided the homes and businesses of ComEd lobbyists as well as politicians with ties to Madigan, seeking records tied to the speaker.

According to the court filings on Friday, ComEd “corruptly” awarded jobs with the utility, contracts and cash payments over the past decade to “exercise control over what measures were called for a vote” before the Illinois House, which has largely been controlled by Madigan for decades.

Madigan was not identified by name in court papers and is instead referred to as “Public Official A.” But the references to him are clear since the documents refer to that public official as the House speaker. The last major Illinois politician to receive the “Public Official A” designation by federal corruption prosecutors was former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was recently released from federal prison after President Donald Trump commuted Blagojevich’s prison sentence on corruption charges.

As part of the 19-page deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd, federal prosecutors in Chicago agreed not to pursue further charges against the utility in exchange for the $200 million settlement and the company’s cooperation in the ongoing corruption scheme.

Case complaint
Read the complaint from the case against ComEd

The agreement said the utility company paid more than one bribe and won benefits from the Illinois legislature in excess of $150 million.

A 10-page attached “statement of facts” details ComEd participating in an ongoing scheme “to influence and reward” Madigan “to assist ComEd with respect to legislation concerning ComEd and its business.”

Madigan sought jobs and contracts for his allies, including precinct captains in his vaunted 13th Ward political organization, prosecutors said.

ComEd also agreed to pay “Law Firm A” for at least 850 hours of legal work per year “with the intent to influence and reward” Madigan. “Personnel and agents of ComEd understood that giving this contract to Law Firm A was important” to Madigan, the filing said.

Prosecutors do not name the law firm.

Madigan is a name partner in the property tax appeals law firm Madigan & Getzendanner, where his clients have sometimes benefitted from his public decisions. It is a conflict documented in a Chicago Tribune series “The Madigan Rules” published over several years beginning in 2010.

“The speaker has never helped someone find a job with the expectation that the person would not be asked to perform work by their employer, nor did he ever expect to provide anything to a prospective employer if it should choose to hire a person he recommended,” according to Madigan’s statement. “He has never made a legislative decision with improper motives and has engaged in no wrongdoing here. Any claim to the contrary is unfounded.”

Federal authorities last year executed search warrants throughout Cook County, as well as the downstate home of longtime ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain, who for decades has been one of Madigan’s closest political confidants. McClain is also not named in the court papers released Friday, but is clearly referred to as “Individual A.”

The charging papers describe numerous incidents in which McClain acted as the middleman between Madigan and ComEd, including one instance in which a lower-level ComEd executive questioned the number of hours given to Law Firm A.

McClain then writes to the CEO of ComEd, stating the CEO needs to get involved and “resolve this issue” over the law firm hours.

“Our Friend will call me and then I will call you,” McClain continued. “Is this a drill we must go through?”

Said the CEO: “Sorry. No one informed me. I am on this.”

The raid on McClain’s home came the same day federal authorities served subpoenas at the City Club of Chicago, whose president, Jay Doherty, also lobbied for ComEd for nearly a decade.

In November, the BGA and WBEZ reported ComEd continued to pay McClain $361,000 for work even after McClain had announced he retired from his job as a ComEd lobbyist.

In addition to raiding McClain’s home, federal agents also raided the home of retired Ald. Michael Zalewski in May 2019. Sources told the BGA and WBEZ that part of the probe centered on efforts to get work for Zalewski at ComEd and interactions between Madigan, Zalewski and McClain.