About right? Fair enough? Too high?
If you’re like most of us, you have no idea. You’re no expert on the electric power business, and you just hope the state Legislature is keeping you from getting gouged.
ComEd is a regulated utility. On a regular basis, legislation that shapes how much you pay must be approved by the Illinois General Assembly.
Bear with us, then, as we review why we think you have every right to question whether your bill is fair.
When the Legislature decides how much ComEd can charge you for electricity, the assumption is that they’re working for you, not ComEd. But a couple of big stories in the news this month call into question that assumption, revealing an almost comically cozy relationship between ComEd’s army of lobbyists and the most powerful elected official in the state.
No, not Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
A couple of big stories in the news this month reveal an almost comically cozy relationship between ComEd’s army of lobbyists and the most powerful elected official in the state.
We mean House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, who also heads the state Democratic Party.
The story begins in February 2018 when Madigan fired a top aide, Kevin Quinn, who had been accused of sexually harassing a campaign worker.
It took Madigan three months to get around to firing Quinn, a loyal 13th Ward lieutenant, but he didn’t have much choice in the #MeToo era.
What happened seven months later, though, is curious.
Beginning in September 2018, at about the time Madigan wrote an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune in which he vowed to end sexual harassment in state government, five current or former ComEd lobbyists reportedly all started sending Quinn money.
Why they would do this, we can only guess. Perhaps they were humanitarians of the first order. They got word that Quinn was going through tough times, unable to find a job, and wanted to help.
Or — and this is a better guess — they wanted to make Madigan happy.
If you are a ComEd lobbyist, which means your job is to get the Legislature to do nice things for ComEd, you wake up in the morning and ask, “How can I make Mike smile today?” It’s the whole game.
And an excellent way to make Mike smile might be to send checks to his struggling former aide, Quinn. Especially if somebody asks you to, which somebody must have. All the checks, as the Chicago Tribune reported in detail this week, were cut at about the same time, in identical amounts.
In September 2018, according to the Trib, the law firm of John Bradley, a former state representative and current ComEd lobbyist, sent Quinn a check for $1,000. Bradley’s firm followed up with three more checks, each for $1,000, in January, February and March of this year.
In December 2018, Cullen Inc., the government affairs firm of ComEd lobbyist Tom Cullen, wrote Quinn a check for $1,000. Cullen once worked for Madigan.
On New Year’s Day, 2019, ComEd lobbyist Michael Alvarez sent Quinn a check for $2,000. For “consulting services Dec. 2018,” Alvarez wrote on the check.
Later in January, Quinn deposited a check for $1,000 signed by the wife of Michael McClain, a former legislator and retired ComEd lobbyist who is close to Madigan.
Also in January, the lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Affairs sent two checks to Quinn, each for $1,000. Cornerstone lobbies for ComEd.
And this, as the Sun-Times documented in Thursday’s editions, is where the politically cozy becomes the politically incestuous.
After firing Quinn early last year, Madigan hired a lawyer to investigate allegations of sexual harassment within his political organization. He said he wanted somebody who would do an “independent review.”
So who’s that independent-minded lawyer who wouldn’t hesitate to step on Madigan’s toes?
The sister of two ComEd lobbyists, Kelly Smith-Haley.
Brother Bill is a senior consultant at Cornerstone. We’re guessing he was responsible for one of those two $1,000 checks from Cornerstone to Quinn.
Brother Mike is a director at Cornerstone. It’s a good bet he was responsible for the second check.
The rule seems to be $1,000 per ComEd lobbyist.
The U.S. attorney’s office is all over this, though we don’t know if “Dollars for Kevin” is the main focus of their investigation into Madigan. Maybe it’s just a side show.
In May, the FBI reportedly raided the homes of Quinn and McClain and confiscated records. The FBI also raided the home of former 23rd Ward alderman Michael Zalewski, reportedly looking into attempts by Madigan and McClain to get ComEd lobbying work for Zalewski.
And a federal grand jury has subpoenaed records from ComEd and its parent company, Exelon.
If you think your electric bill is too high, you can always challenge it. There’s a number to call on the back.
Or send a check to Kevin Quinn. Maybe that’ll work.
Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.