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