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Congresswoman Bustos opts out of Madigan’s anti-harassment panel

Rep. Cheri Bustos (Scott Morgan/Rockford Register Star via AP, File)

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos on Wednesday told Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Mike Madigan that she can no longer be part of a statewide anti-harassment panel, citing legal reasons for withdrawing.

Bustos wrote to Madigan that the decision was made after consulting with the “House Ethics Committee in the U.S. Congress, legal counsel and others,” and that it would be “impracticable” for her to serve on the independently funded panel.

“As such, I am regretfully withdrawing from participating in this effort before it transitions from an idea to a legal entity,” Bustos wrote.

The Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access Panel was formed in February by Madigan as the longtime speaker tried to do damage control after firing one veteran political worker, the brother of Ald. Marty Quinn (13th), over allegations of misconduct.

When he formed the panel, Madigan admitted he hadn’t done enough to combat sexual harassment. Two days later, he banned a second operative, Shaw Decremer, from his political organization because of allegations of bullying and harassment.

In a letter to members of the Democratic State Central Committee, Madigan said he asked Bustos, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza and state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, to “take the lead on facilitating a statewide discussion about the role of women in the Democratic Party of Illinois … and how we can work to change the culture of politics.”

The trio later vowed to be independent of the state party and its leaders.

But on Wednesday, Bustos wrote in a letter to Madigan that she is formally withdrawing from the panel.

“After thoroughly examining all legal options, it was determined that in order for the panel to form as an independent legal entity — entirely outside of the Democratic Party of Illinois — Congresswoman Bustos, as a federal officeholder, would have to withdraw and allow this to become a strictly state level effort,” Bustos’ office said in a statement.

Bustos wrote that several funding mechanisms have been identified, but a challenge arose in complying with both federal and state election law — since Bustos operates as a federal officeholder and Mendoza and Ammons are state officials.

The panel said their goal is to “provide a set of forward-facing guidelines to be adopted by all Democratic officeholders, campaigns and nonprofit organizations to eliminate institutional protections for abusers and provide resources to help survivors continue in their careers.”

The panel also said it plans to try to look at barriers that have held back women from holding higher leadership within the party.

Steve Brown, spokesman for Madigan, said Madigan agreed with Bustos’ analysis in terms of the fundraising issues presented as she serves as a federal officeholder.

“He will review what’s needed going forward,” Brown said when asked whether another person will be appointed to the panel. Brown, too, said it may be discussed on Monday at a meeting with the State Central Committee in Springfield in which Madigan is expected to be once again named chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.