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Want the next AG to go after Speaker Madigan? Don’t hold your breath

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but the next attorney general of Illinois is not going to be conducting a criminal investigation of House Speaker Mike Madigan.

That’s true whether the job is held by Erika Harold, the Republican nominee, or Sen. Kwame Raoul, the Democrat.

ANALYSIS

Most of you probably just cynically assume Raoul isn’t going to be investigating his fellow Chicago Democrat, the state party chairman, and I would cynically agree.

But I’m thinking some Illinois voters have been left with the impression Harold would convene a grand jury on her first day of office to start digging into Madigan’s conduct.

That’s just not going to happen — not on her first day, or in her first year or in her first term. And if she did, that would be the greater cause for concern.

Harold has done plenty to add to the perception that she’s going to take on Madigan by adopting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s strategy of using the unpopular speaker as a campaign prop to vilify Democrats as corrupt, although so far she hasn’t yet followed the governor’s lead and called Raoul a “crook.”

One of her most prominent commercials pairs Madigan and Raoul as being involved in a “scheme” to raise property taxes, which closes with the tagline: “As attorney general, I’ll make the politicians pay for their corruption, not you.”

From left, Illinois Attorney General nominees Bubba Harsy (L), Erika Harold (R) and Kwame Raoul (D) at a Sun-Times Editorial Board forum Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Politifact, finding no scheme, deemed the commercial to be “mostly false.” Harold defended the commercial Tuesday as factually accurate, and I’ll leave it at that.

But how would she “make the politicians pay?”

Rauner had an answer for that last month, telling a radio interviewer: “Erika Harold will prosecute Madigan and the corruption.”

I asked Harold about her plans to investigate Madigan when the attorney general candidates appeared Tuesday before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board.

She disputed my assertion that her commercials have given voters the impression that she would.

Without naming Madigan, she said she would “open an investigation … if people brought me evidence of any sort of public misconduct, and it was within my jurisdiction.”

And has anyone brought her any such evidence about Madigan during the year she has been running for office?

“People have not given me evidence that he has broken the law,” she said, adding that “not everything that is legal is ethical.”

A prosecutor can’t open an investigation without evidence of a crime. Perceived ethical flaws are not enough.

I seem to be among a small minority of people who have never liked the idea of an Illinois attorney general mucking around in the arena of public corruption.

Would anyone have wanted Lisa Madigan investigating the Rauner administration? What if she had indicted a Republican legislator? Would you have trusted that politics wasn’t involved?

Would you have felt any different if any of the state’s other recent attorney generals — Jim Ryan, Roland Burris or Neil Hartigan — had indicted a prominent member of the opposing political party?

Not me. That’s why I’m content to leave that work to federal prosecutors.

For one thing, the attorney general’s office is just not set up to handle those types of cases. The attorney general has no FBI or IRS agents to do the job of conducting a sophisticated white-collar investigation.

Does anyone really believe that none of our U.S. attorneys, not even noted corruption-buster Patrick Fitzgerald, ever put Madigan under the microscope?

Of course, they did. And the results would suggest they always came up short of a prosecutable case.

I can also tell you that most of this city’s best investigative reporters over the past several decades have trained their sights on Madigan at one time or another and never landed a knockdown punch.

Why is that? My interpretation: the man has become very careful over the years about not breaking the law.

There are any number of reasons on which Illinois voters could base a valid choice for either major candidate for attorney general.

They just shouldn’t be under any illusion that it’s going to quench their bloodlust for Madigan.

RELATED

WATCH: Republican nominee Erika Harold, Democratic nominee Kwame Raoul and Libertarian Bubba Harsy are seeking your vote to be the next Illinois attorney general. They were invited to meet with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board. The general election is Nov. 6.