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Special legislative committee begins rarely used disciplinary proceeding to look into conduct of House Speaker Michael Madigan

The Illinois House kicked off a rarely used disciplinary process Thursday to probe the conduct of Speaker Michael Madigan in light of allegations that Commonwealth Edison undertook a bribery scheme to gain his favor, with Republicans seeking to hear testimony from the powerful Democrat and former utility executives and lobbyists.

House Republican leader Jim Durkin, who petitioned for the probe, asked the six-member panel to decide whether to authorize a charge against Madigan for engaging “in conduct unbecoming to a legislator, or which constitutes a breach of public trust… including engaging in a bribery scheme and extortion scheme, conspiracy to violate federal and state laws, among other misconduct and misuse of the office.”

ComEd this summer agreed to pay a $200 million fine as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors who alleged the utility engaged in a “yearslong bribery scheme” by offering jobs and other inducements to allies of Madigan.

Madigan, the nation’s longest serving speaker and the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.

The special committee is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, and partisan differences were quickly felt.

Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from Hillside who chairs the committee, said the panel’s first task is to reach out to the U.S. attorney’s office to ensure the legislative committee’s effort doesn’t interfere with ongoing federal probe.

Durkin’s petition to form the committee invoked the House’s rarely used Rule 91, which was most recently triggered last year after then-Democratic state Rep. Luis Arroyo was charged with one count of federal program bribery. Arroyo resigned before that special investigating committee held its first meeting.

In 2012, the process advanced much further in the case of then-state Rep. Derrick Smith. The full House voted overwhelmingly to oust him from his seat after he was indicted on charges he accepted a $7,000 bribe.

That process, which started with a special investigating committee, should set the precedent for the present panel’s work, Welch said.

“We have very little precedent to go by. I have studied the Derrick Smith transcripts all weekend long and we’re going to follow precedent. And we have to make sure we contact the U.S. attorney’s office and get a response before this committee can do any work further,” Welch said.

Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, a Republican from Elmhurst, suggested Welch’s proposal was an effort to bring the proceedings to a halt, and that there’s a “whole host of work” the committee can do independently of the U.S. attorney’s office.

“No one said anything about halting the work of the committee, but we are going to reach out to the U.S. attorney’s office and make contact first,” Welch said. “There will be nothing further until then.”

A majority vote of the committee is needed to authorize a charge against Madigan, meaning it would require the support of at least one Democrat. If a majority was achieved in favor of charges, a 12-member disciplinary panel would decide whether to recommend disciplining Madigan to the full House of Representatives.

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ComEd’s deal with prosecutors concluded that the utility benefited by at least $150 million from state lawmakers’ approval of the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act in 2011 and the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016.

Mazzochi and her fellow Republican committee members, Reps. Tom Demmer and Grant Wehrli, submitted a list of several people they want to ask to voluntarily appear and produce documents, among them Madigan and his longtime confidant Michael McClain, a former ComEd lobbyist.

Also named on the list are former Chicago Ald. Michael R. Zalewski, former City Club of Chicago president and veteran lobbyist Jay Doherty, former CEO of ComEd parent company Exelon Anne Pramaggiore, and a longtime lobbyist for the utility, John Hooker.

The Republicans also want to hear from Fidel Marquez, a former ComEd vice president who was charged last week with bribery conspiracy in connection he played a part in ComEd’s alleged scheme to curry Madigan’s favor.

Madigan will not be required to attend the committee’s proceedings, but he will be invited to attend on his own or with an attorney, and they will be able to review any evidence that’s presented, Welch said.

Madigan, in a statement last week, called Durkin’s petition for the creation of the committee a “political stunt.”

Welch, in a news conference after Thursday’s meeting, questioned the Republicans’ appointment of two members to the committee who are waging reelection battles, as well as the timing of the Aug. 31 petition filing.

“There’s a posturing element involved here, certainly,” Welch said. “But I was appointed chair of a committee that I didn’t know I was going to be chair of. 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.”

Mazzochi said the suggestion that Republicans called for the committee for political reasons was “insulting.”

“This committee is made up of people who are loyalists to Madigan on the Democrat side, we know that, we understand that,” Mazzochi said after Thursday’s meeting “But, you know what, they have to be accountable to their members, too, and many of their members have said, ‘We don’t like this behavior by the speaker and if true, he should resign.’”

Since the ComEd agreement was made public, several members of Madigan’s caucus have publicly called on the speaker to resign his leadership posts, which he has said he doesn’t intend to do.

First-term Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has called on Madigan to answer questions raised by prosecutors’ allegations, and said last week that “perhaps the creation of this legislative committee will actually get some of those answers.”

jmunks@chicagotribune.com

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