The special statehouse committee probing Michael Madigan’s potential ties to a million-dollar ComEd bribery scheme won’t meet again until after Election Day, thanks to a top Democratic ally of the embattled Illinois House Speaker.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the Hillside Democrat who chairs the Special Investigating Committee, announced Tuesday he’d push its next meeting back to Nov. 5 to shed “the backdrop of a political campaign.”
“At every step of this process, our cooperation has been accompanied with the proviso that we will not allow this committee to be used as a stage for political theater — an admonishment our Republican colleagues appear to have taken more as a challenge than as a reflection of this committee’s serious work,” Welch said in a statement.
He accused his counterparts across the aisle of revealing “their assumption of guilt” and “wearing two hats” — as impartial investigators and as political campaigners.
But the three Republican members of the six-person committee say it’s the Democrats who are driven by politics, delaying the GOP’s “quest for the truth” and protecting Madigan, the man who has been at the center of Illinois politics for nearly four decades.
“Chris Welch said that he was going to run a professional investigation. This is not how a professional runs an investigation. This is how a political professional covers up the truth and crushes an investigation,” said state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, who branded Welch “Chairman Squelch.”
“The speaker has spoken, apparently, as he commonly does, through a surrogate, and now that surrogate is Chris Welch,” Mazzochi said. “He’s been told, one way or another, to make it stop.”
The committee has met in Springfield twice since Republicans petitioned to create the special investigative body Aug. 31 to look into whether Madigan had a hand in the alleged ComEd bribery scheme.
Federal prosecutors in July revealed the utility giant had agreed to pay a $200 million fine after admitting some company officials had plotted over the years to pay a total $1.3 million to Madigan associates for doing little or no work in an effort to secure the speaker’s vital legislative support.
Madigan has not been charged with a crime, and has maintained that he’s “never made legislative decisions with improper motives.”
The longtime Southwest Side powerhouse has dismissed the committee’s effort as a “political stunt” and he’s refused to appear for questioning, saying in a letter that he’s already “provided all the information” he can give.
Last week, Mazzochi and the other Republican committee members — Dixon Rep. Tom Demmer and Naperville Rep. Grant Wehrli — said they planned to use their subpoena power to force Madigan to sit before the committee.
Now, if that ever does happen, it won’t until after the Nov. 3 election in which Madigan, the Illinois Democratic Party chairman, is aiming to expand the Democratic supermajority in his chamber.
“The only thing apparently that matters is protecting Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan,” Mazzochi said. “That’s what matters to Chris Welch: protecting his patronage, protecting his political power, protecting his privilege. … This is stonewalling. This is ostrich-in-the-sand decision-making.”
Welch said the committee is still working to obtain more information from ComEd — at the request of both parties.
“This information provides critical context for the committee’s work. We cannot conduct a thorough investigation with blinders on; if we are to consider whether ComEd’s admissions in the deferred prosecution agreement constitute conduct unbecoming of a lawmaker, we need to understand the full extent of ComEd’s actions — including interactions with other elected officials instrumental to the passage of their legislation,” Welch said.
House Republican Minority Leader Jim Durkin called the delay “a slap in the face to the Governor, the General Assembly and the citizens of Illinois,” and “just another example of Mike Madigan’s double standard of the House Rules. The Rules of the House apply to all except him.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said Madigan “needs to stand up and answer those questions” about the ComEd situation. Wehrli appealed to the Democratic governor directly during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“Governor, you hold the most powerful office in the state of Illinois. Use it. Get answers,” Wehrli said.
Pritzker’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.