Magically, Mike Madigan has transformed himself into the champion of the state’s working class, maybe the last hope for us regular folks.
Yes, we’re talking about the same Magic Mike who just a few years ago supported huge tax breaks for Chicago’s options and futures traders.
The same Magic Mike whose law firm does a thriving trade in appealing tax assessments for many of Chicago’s biggest property owners.
All the longtime Illinois House speaker and state Democratic Party chairman needed to make his magical transformation was the appearance on the Illinois political scene of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Now, Madigan is the target of a multimillion-dollar TV attack ad blitz paid for by rich Chicago businessman Sam Zell, who’s acting on behalf of the new governor and his pro-business “turnaround agenda.”
It’s easy and natural for anybody but a plutocrat to sympathize with someone facing such intense criticism from a billionaire businessman known as “The Grave Dancer” and a governor who estimated his personal net worth at around half a billion dollars recently.
But we don’t know how much Madigan himself is worth.
When candidates run for statewide office, reporters usually ask them to release their tax returns. The same thing happens in Chicago mayoral campaigns.
Nobody has to do it. But most do, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who gives reporters a copy of his return as soon as he files it each spring, just as Richard M. Daley did.
Even Rauner released part — but far from all — of his tax returns when he was running for governor, revealing his $60.1 million income in 2013. (The governor’s office says he hasn’t filed his 2014 return, having received an extension).
The interest on the part of the news media isn’t prurient. The point is to try to make sure elected leaders act in the interests of the public, instead of their pocketbooks.
Madigan has never asked the voters to elect him to anything but an Illinois House seat representing parts of his native Southwest Side and the south suburbs. So even though he’s wielded more power than anybody in Springfield for more than three decades, the speaker has never come under pressure to release his tax returns.
I asked his spokesman, Steve Brown, what Madigan’s net worth is.
“I don’t know, either,” Brown replied.
Has Madigan ever made his tax returns public?
“No,” Brown said. “There’s no purpose for it.”
Since Rauner accuses Madigan of using his clout to enrich himself, I suggested this could be a good time for the speaker also to start releasing his returns.
“I fail to make the connection,” Brown said.
Madigan probably is nowhere near as well-off as Rauner and certainly not as rich as Zell. Still, his property-tax-appeal moonlighting with the Madigan & Getzendanner firm could put him comfortably into the millionaires’ club that he says he wants to tax.
Despite Madigan’s stated support, legislation that would take an additional 3 percent from the incomes of 14,000 millionaires has failed repeatedly in Springfield.
Madigan has said such a tax would raise $1 billion for education and be a nice way for those who have “done well” to help kids.
His efforts on that front — and in all his new class-warfare battles against the super-rich governor and his even wealthier allies — would gain credibility if he let everybody know just how well Magic Mike is doing for himself.