clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Panel probing Madigan’s ComEd dealings demonstrates that ‘bipartisan’ doesn’t mean ‘nonpartisan’

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch said the committee’s job is “not a legal proceeding — it is a political proceeding.” GOP Rep. Deanne Mazzochi said the Democrats on the committee are “people who are loyalists to Madigan.”

House Speaker Mike Madigan, center, is only the third state lawmaker investigated by a special legislative committee this century. The other two were then state Rep. Luis Arroyo, left, shown outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in February, and then state Rep. Derrick Smith, right, shown inside the Federal Building in 2014.
House Speaker Mike Madigan, center, is only the third state lawmaker investigated by a special legislative committee this century. The other two were then state Rep. Luis Arroyo, left, shown outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse in February, and then state Rep. Derrick Smith, right, shown inside the Federal Building in 2014.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times; Neal Earley/Sun-Times; Brian Jackson/Sun-Times.

Complaints of political posturing created some bumps in the road Thursday for the bipartisan state House committee during its first meeting investigating Speaker Michael Madigan.

The nearly half-hour meeting went smoothly until state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst said she and the other two Republican state representatives on the committee —Tom Demmer of Dixon and Grant Wehrli of Naperville — prepared letters to ask people to hand over documents and appear as witnesses “to ensure that this committee can proceed expeditiously while [state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch] and spokesman Demmer reach out to the US Attorney’s Office.”

Welch, the Democratic chair of the panel, pushed back on that move, saying the committee needed to follow the precedent of the 2012 panel investigating the conduct of then-state Rep. Derrick Smith — waiting for a response from U.S. Attorney John Lausch before moving forward.

Despite the squabble — the lone divisive moment during the meeting — the letters were entered into the public record.

In a news conference after the meeting, Welch said the committee’s job is “not a legal proceeding — it is a political proceeding.”

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, answers questions from the media earlier this month.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, answers questions from the media following a meeting of the Special Investigating Committee at the Illinois Capitol on Thursday.
Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP

“I don’t think it’s the job of the Illinois House of Representatives to do a criminal investigation — that’s what the US Attorney’s office is doing,” the Hillside Democrat said. “I respect that process, and I think that’s why it was important for us to take the action we did today, and it passed unanimously, so we’re gonna move quickly, and we’re gonna reach out to [Lausch] and seek his guidance and see what he says.”

Asked whether he feels the committee’s work could affect the upcoming election, Welch said there’s a “posturing element involved here.”

“I’m going to do the job, try to be as fair as possible, make sure we’re as open and as transparent as possible, and I’ll let you ask Rep. Durkin why he appointed top two … Tier One Republicans who are up for election to the committee, and why he filed it at this time. I think that’s a question more suited for them,” Welch said, using the term for legislative seats the opposing party is competing hardest to win.

Mazzochi said the Democrats on the committee are “people who are loyalists to Madigan.”

The deferred-prosecution agreement in the ComEd case has “taken an incredible amount of work off the table because those are admitted facts,” the Elmhurst lawmaker said at a separate news conference after the meeting.

State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, left; state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, center; state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, right.
State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, left, and state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, center, talk tor reporters on Thursday in Springfield; state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, right, listens Thursday during the first meeting of the Special Investigating Committee.
Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP

“This is not a political stunt,” Mazzochi said, referring to Madigan’s comment about the petition that led to Thursday’s proceedings. “This is a truth hunt. This is what we’re trying to do — we’re trying to get to the truth of what actually happened here because it shouldn’t happen again. … The speaker may have a good explanation for all of this and if he does, bring it forward. Please.”

The special bipartisan legislative panel is looking into any potential wrongdoing on Madigan’s part after an explosive federal court filing implicated him in an alleged bribery scheme. In that court filing, ComEd is accused of sending $1.3 million to Madigan’s associates for doing little or no work for the utility.

In response to that federal court document, Durkin and two other Republican House members called for the legislative investigation, invoking the House rule for “disciplinary proceedings” against the powerful Southwest Side Democrat.

It’s only the third time in the past two decades that the rare move has been triggered.

Unlike Madigan’s case, the two past legislative investigations involved Democratic lawmakers who had been charged with crimes – Smith and then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo.

Arroyo stepped down last November, on the same day the newly formed legislative committee was scheduled to hold its first hearing looking into allegations of wrongdoing on the Northwest Side Democrat’s part.

“Arroyo’s resignation shouldn’t distract from the fact that the allegations contained in this criminal complaint go beyond anything that could be considered a lapse of judgment or minor indiscretion,” Madigan said at the time. “These allegations are beyond extraordinary, which is why it called for the creation of the Special Investigative Committee and possible disciplinary action.”

Smith was expelled by the Illinois House in a 2012 vote after allegedly accepting a $7,000 cash bribe from an undercover FBI informant. The indicted West Side Democrat reclaimed his House seat later that year, but lost the 2014 primary — despite having Madigan’s endorsement and financial backing.

A few months later, Smith lost his House seat after a federal jury convicted him of bribery and attempted extortion.

In the current investigation, Madigan has not been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing.

House Speaker Mike Madigan during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in May.
House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, talks on his cellphone from his desk during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in May.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

The speaker recused himself from the committee’s proceedings, but not before taking a shot at the Republicans who petitioned for the committee, calling it “a political stunt only months away from one of the most consequential elections of our lifetimes.”

Demmer said he believes the committee will be able to wrap up its work by Election Day. The committee also expects Madigan to testify to “either contest the facts that have been laid out or not contest those facts,” Demmer said.

Welch stressed that the committee’s work would follow the pattern of previous panels before it.

“What we do not want to do here with this process is interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation,” Welch said. “We have to remember that speaker Madigan is entitled to due process, and we’re going to make sure that he gets the due process in this committee.”