By John Ruberry
As WIND-AM radio host Dan Proft says, “Illinois isn’t broken, it’s fixed.”
And the biggest fixer of all in Illinois is Boss Michael Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1997, speaker of the Illinois House, except for two years, since 1983, and Democratic committeman of the 13th Ward since 1969.
As I’ve mentioned many times before in this space, Madigan, among many other things, is a walking advertisement for term limits. I didn’t call him a walking-and-talking advertisement for term limits, because Illinois’ most powerful politician infrequently speaks to the media.
On Friday Boss Madigan was implicated in a bribery scheme involving Illinois’ largest utility, Commonwealth Edison, part of the Exelon Corporation. ComEd, in a deferred prosecution agreement, is charged with one count of bribery. ComEd, according to the filing, admitted that it gained $150 million in rate structuring over the last eight years. Which means that Illinoisans like me have to pay more for electricity.
ComEd has to pay a $200 million fine. If the utility behaves over the next three years the bribery charge will be dropped.
The bribe scheme involves the utility rewarding contracts and jobs–some of them allegedly little-or-no-work—to Madigan cronies. Madigan is not named by the feds but he is widely believed to be the person labeled Public Official A in their paperwork.
Illinois’ weaselly Democratic governor, JB Pritzker, the state’s second-most powerful pol, had this to say later on Friday about the man whose political machine arguably gained him the Democratic nomination in 2018, and hence the governor’s office in the general election, “If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust and he must resign therefore.”
But Pritzker has his own legal problem. The aggressive U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, John Lausch, in an investigation involving the former Cook County assessor, Joseph Berrios, is believed to be looking at Pritzker. Berrios is the former chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as the Chicago Machine. Berrios has long ties to Madigan and it’s generally believed that Madigan was the impetus for Berrios’ unanimous election as chairman of the Cook County Dems in 2007.
A billionaire, Pritzker and his wife, MK, had the toilets removed from a Chicago Gold Coast mansion that he owns and that is adjacent to the one he lives in. Allegedly the commodes were removed so JB’s residence could receive a $330,000 property tax break because the mansion next door was “uninhabitable.” Also on Friday, news broke about the investigation of the Cook County assessor’s office involving other 100 properties. Many of the tax appeals filed were handled by a small law firm where Boss Madigan is a name partner. A law firm where Chicago alderman Ed Burke is a partner–he is under indictment for racketeering–handled some of the other appeals.
The Pritzkers later paid the county back the $330,000 he saved. JB and MK deny any wrongdoing. However, the Cook County inspector general called the toilet removal appeal a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers such as myself.
Back to Madigan.
The jobs Madigan allegedly pressured ComEd to hand out allegedly include a real plum, a board of directors seat at ComEd. That person, not named by the feds, got the seat but he is no longer on the board. Some students who live in Madigan’s Chicago ward received internships from ComEd. While internships may not involve a paycheck, job offers can follow. Madigan’s office even directed the utility to hire meter readers for ComEd.
According to someone prosecutors named Individual A, “We hire these guys because [Madigan] came to us. It’s just that simple.”
Boss Madigan is widely considered to the man behind the fiscal crisis that has destroyed Illinois. The Prairie State is burdened unsustainable public-worker pension debt. Public-sector unions have been a loyal cog for Democrats in Illinois for decades. Madigan’s fingerprints are on every Illinois budget since the early 1980s. Yet Madigan somehow finds the time to tell which meter readers ComEd should hire.
Illinois has $4.8 billion in unpaid bills, the lowest amount since 2015. But a $1.2 billion federal loan designed for COVID-19 relief deserved the credit. Loans, by the way, are supposed to be paid back.
Illinois has been annually losing population since 2014.
As for alleged Madigan strong-arming, the feds aren’t just looking at Commonwealth Edison. Madigan’s state office was subpoenaed on Friday, allegedly authorities were seeking records involving AT&T (disclosure, I worked for them for 11 years), Walgreens, Rush University–and a whole lot more.
Through a spokesperson Madigan denies any wrongdoing.
While Donald Trump’s chances of winning Illinois this fall are miniscule–part of that reason is the Illinois conservatives are demoralized because of Madigan’s obscene gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts–reelecting Trump may be the best way to ensure a thorough prosecution of Democratic corruption in Illinois. Americans, we’re all in the same boat. A Joe Biden pick for the Chicago area’s chief federal prosecutor might be less enthusiastic about going after Madigan and the Illinois culture of corruption.
John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.