An executive from Commonwealth Edison parent company Exelon is set to testify Tuesday before a special Illinois House committee investigating Speaker Michael Madigan in connection with a bribery case involving the utility.
The six-member special investigating committee, formed this summer after federal prosecutors alleged ComEd engaged in a “yearslong bribery scheme” aimed at currying favor with Madigan, has become a partisan flash point ahead of the November election.
The panel was formed at the request of House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs to determine whether Madigan engaged in “conduct unbecoming to a legislator” and should face potential discipline. The speaker and the panel’s Democratic chairman, state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside, have accused the GOP of political posturing. Republicans accuse Democrats of acting in defense of Madigan, who has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing.
Madigan was one of several witnesses the committee’s three Republicans asked to testify, but all declined the invitation, with the exception of ComEd. Set to testify on the utility’s behalf on Tuesday is David Glockner, Exelon’s executive vice president for compliance and audit.
The six-member panel could subpoena witnesses, but that would require one of three Democrats to vote with the three Republicans to compel testimony. One Democrat also would have to side with Republicans for the special committee to approve a charge against Madigan.
As part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office announced earlier this summer, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and cooperate with investigators after federal prosecutors alleged in July that the utility offered jobs, contracts and payments to Madigan allies in the hopes of winning support for favorable legislation.
The agreement with federal prosecutors focuses specifically on two major pieces of energy legislation approved in the legislature in the past decade: the 2011 Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act and the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act, both of which resulted in major benefits for the state’s largest utility.
In a letter Friday declining the invitation to testify, Madigan argued that “House Democrats won significant concessions, much to the chagrin of ComEd and Exelon, likely costing the companies millions of dollars in profits.”
Seeking to turn the tables on Durkin, Madigan noted the key role the House GOP leader and then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner played in negotiating the 2016 legislation, which opponents characterized as a bailout for two Exelon nuclear power plants.
“If Rep. Durkin were to put aside his current political agenda and speak honestly about his experiences with this energy legislation in which he was personally involved, I am certain he would attest that the process of negotiating that bill was bipartisan and his input was likely more valuable than mine,” Madigan wrote.
Following Madigan’s cue, Welch said in a statement Monday that he informed Durkin that the committee may “call him as a witness, due to his significant involvement in the energy legislation referenced in his petition.”
Welch also told the Republican leader that he would not be permitted to make statements or question witnesses before the committee under House rules.
Durkin issued his own defiant statement, saying that Welch “is not well-versed on the proceedings of the investigatory committee.”
“Under my rights not only as the petitioner but also as a member of the General Assembly, I will be making an opening statement and questioning the confirmed witness, Commonwealth Edison, on the admitted facts laid out in the petition against Michael J. Madigan,” Durkin said. “See you there!”
The exchange was the latest in weeks of partisan squabbling since the committee first met Sept. 10. Since then, Democrats and Republicans have sparred over what the committee can and can’t ask under guidelines laid down by U.S. Attorney John Lausch.
The U.S. attorney’s office would object, for example, to lawmakers asking witnesses about grand jury proceedings or their conversations with federal authorities, among other subjects. The office also would object if the committee offered immunity in exchange for testimony or documents.
But the letter, sent as a follow-up to a discussion held at the lawmakers’ request, leaves room for the committee to ask about facts laid out in the deferred prosecution agreement.
Lausch clarified in a second letter to Welch and the committee’s top Republican, Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, that he doesn’t object to the committee asking witnesses about “nonpublic” information as long as it doesn’t fall into one of the categories he previously deemed off-limits.
Lausch sent the letter after Welch issued a statement saying questions from the committee about “information underlying the deferred prosecution agreement beyond what is already public could be met with objection by federal investigators.”
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