SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — A bipartisan panel of state lawmakers took the first step on Wednesday to begin investigative proceedings that could ultimately result in the formal discipline or potential expulsion of House Speaker Michael Madigan, the longest tenured state legislative leader in American history.
Madigan, who first won elected office in 1971, faces no criminal charges, and maintains he did nothing illegal or improper during a nine year period when federal prosecutors allege the state’s largest utility company attempted to bribe members of his inner circle.
“Given the facts admitted by ComEd for its nine-year-long scheme to bribe Speaker Madigan, the Illinois House of Representatives must do its job and conduct a thorough investigation,” House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said in a statement on Wednesday.
House rules allow any three members of the legislative chamber to file a petition to prompt the disciplinary hearings. Durkin, along with Representatives Andrew Chesney (R-Freeport) and Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) signed the petition, and demanded Madigan recuse himself from overseeing the process.
The rare occurrence marks the first time in state history that the House of Representatives has begun proceedings to potentially expel a member who has not yet been charged with a crime. Two other former members Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) and Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) were already facing criminal charges when the House opened investigative proceedings against them.
The U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Illinois struck a deal with ComEd in July, allowing the company to escape bribery charges if it agreed to participate in the investigation and pay a fine of $200 million. ComEd acknowledged in court documents that it put several Madigan allies on its payroll as lobbyists or contractors. During that period of time, the legislature approved allowed the company to raise its electric rates.
House Deputy Minority Leader Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) was appointed as one of three Republicans to sit on the panel to investigate the Speaker’s conduct.
“ComEd has pled that they engaged in very specific circumstances, specific settings [where] they did this for that,” Demmer explained. “There are quid pro quos that are established by ComEd. So I think there are some very specific things that we have to investigate. We need to get to the bottom of them to understand who was involved, directly or indirectly, [and] understand the nature of those arrangements.”
“I have never made a legislative decision with improper motives,” Madigan said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “The notion that the passage of two consequential pieces of energy legislation was tied to the hiring or retention of a few individuals is seriously mistaken. Those bills had the broad support of Democrats and Republican members, other legislative leaders, labor supporters, consumer advocates, and environmentalists.”
Once Madigan recused himself, House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago), a longtime ally of the Speaker, appointed Representative Chris Welch (D-Hillside) to oversee the committee procedure.
In an interview on Wednesday, Welch vowed to give the Speaker due process and a fair hearing, but also sounded sympathetic to portions of the Speaker’s defense.
“I do think the Republicans have to consider that was a bipartisan effort signed by a Republican governor,” Welch said, referring to the Future Energy Jobs Act former Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law in 2017. “And so all of that’s going to be taken into consideration during this process. I don’t know how you can ignore it.”
“We’re gonna we’re going to see where this takes us,” Welch said. “Right now, I’m looking at a complaint that doesn’t charge anything specifically. And so we’re going to have to, you know, listen to the complainants and see where they’re trying to take this thing because right now, they’re not accusing him of anything specific.”
Despite repeated calls from Governor J.B. Pritzker for Madigan to answer questions about his role in the scheme, the Speaker has not met the media nor answered any direct questions from reporters since federal prosecutors outlined him as ‘Public Official A’ in the deferred prosecution agreement.
“There are questions that need to be answered by the Speaker, and perhaps the creation of this legislative committee will actually get some of those answers,” Pritzker said during a press conference from Chicago.
The committee will include two of Madigan’s most loyal members of his leadership team, Assistant Majority Leaders Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) and Natalie Manley (D-Joliet).
The panel of lawmakers will also feature two of Madigan’s fiercest critics, Representatives Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) and Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst), who both trail their Democratic challengers in campaign cash.
Madigan dismissed the Republican calls for the investigation as an election year political stunt to distract voters from President Trump’s record and rhetoric.
“Republicans don’t want to focus on the fact that we have a federal administration that has used the White House to prop up Donald Trump’s wealthy campaign donors and friends at the expense of the American people,” Madigan said. “The Republicans don’t want people to focus on the nearly 200,000 COVID-19 deaths or the countless number of Illinoisans who have lost their jobs, healthcare coverage and retirement savings due to Trump’s mismanaged COVID-19 response. They certainly don’t want people to draw attention to the intense racial divisions Donald Trump relishes.”
The first hearings have not yet been scheduled. If the committee finds wrongdoing in its report, a second panel of new members to review their report to determine whether or not to discipline or potentially expel the Speaker from the General Assembly.