Accusing his Republican counterparts of engaging in “political theater” ahead of the Nov. 3 election, the Democratic chairman of a special Illinois House committee investigating the conduct of longtime Speaker Michael Madigan said Tuesday that the panel won’t meet again until the polls close.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside said in a statement that the three GOP lawmakers on the special investigating committee, formed in response to a petition from House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, “are wearing two hats.”
“While sitting on a committee that is charged with conducting an impartial investigation based on the petition filed by Leader Durkin, the Republican members of this committee are also engaged in competitive political campaigns in which they have chosen to campaign almost exclusively against the speaker,” Welch said.
Welch took issue in particular with two committee members, Reps. Grant Wehrli of Naperville and Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst, participating in a campaign news conference on Monday, “effectively confirming their assumption of guilt and chiding Democratic opponents for not jumping to the same conclusion.”
Wehrli and Mazzochi are both engaged in competitive reelection battles against Democratic challengers who have received sizable campaign contributions from funds tied to Madigan, who also chairs the state Democratic Party.
Republicans have accused Welch of acting in defense of Madigan by blocking a vote last week to issue subpoenas to compel testimony from the powerful Southwest Side Democrat and other witnesses.
Earlier Tuesday, the leading Republican on the committee, Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, accused Welch of trying to slow-walk the investigating by requesting “a data dump” from Commonwealth Edison, which is at the center of the investigation
Durkin petitioned for the creation of the rarely used special investigating committee after ComEd in July admitted in a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office that it engaged in a yearslong bribery scheme aimed at currying favor with Madigan.
The only witness to testify before the committee to date, an executive with ComEd parent Exelon, confirmed that, among other actions, the utility paid Madigan associates through third-party companies despite the fact that they did little or no work.
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The committee is tasked with determining whether Madigan should be charged with engaging in “conduct unbecoming to a legislator” and face potential discipline.
While Republicans on the committee sought documents from ComEd pertaining to its communications with Madigan and close associate, Welch has requested a decade’s worth of documents detailing the company’s dealings with the administration of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his two predecessors and the with current and former leaders of all four caucuses of the General Assembly.
“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.
The committee also is seeking testimony from former top ComEd lobbyist Fidel Marquez, who pleaded guilty in federal court last week to one count of bribery conspiracy. In a deal that could keep him out of prison, Marquez has agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in their ongoing public corruption probe.
An attorney for Marquez could not be reached immediately for comment.
Welch said he also is reviewing the committee’s subpoena powers.
Republicans believe Welch, a member of Madigan’s House leadership team, is attempting to run out the clock on the committee, which will be dissolved when the current term of the General Assembly ends in January.
Welch set the next hearing date for Nov. 5, when it won’t be against “the backdrop of a political campaign.”
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