While federal prosecutors seem focused on an alleged bribery scheme of ComEd trying to influence Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan with nine years’ worth of jobs and contracts for associates, clout remains a problem that crosses party lines.
Former ComEd official Fidel Marquez has pleaded guilty to the bribery scheme. Madigan associate Michael McClain, along with two other former ComEd officials and another Madigan ally, pleaded not guilty to bribery charges. Madigan, D-Chicago, has not been charged with a crime and has said he hasn't done anything wrong.
The longtime speaker has declined to answer questions from the Illinois House Special Investigating Committee, which is looking into his conduct.
Since that hearing, ComEd released documents through the committee.
In many of the 100 emails, McClain persistently asked about internships and contracts with Madigan-connected law firms for ComEd to pay. But, he wasn’t just emailing the utility about jobs for “our Friend,” which is widely believed to be Madigan, he also emailed several times mentioning House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs.
“[readcated] has left the chief of staff position for Leader Jim Durkin,” McClain wrote to former ComEd executive Fidel Marquez on Oct. 5, 2015. “He is respected as a man of integrity amongst all four Leaders and their senior teams. [redacted] called and asked if we would consider him. I would like for us to capture him before Ameren. I know he would make a valuable asset.”
There are several other instances McClain invokes Durkin’s name in relation to job prospects for the utility.
On Wednesday, Durkin addressed being mentioned several times in McClain emails in relation to possible jobs with ComEd as far back as 2013.
“I did not have any involvement or make any phone calls on behalf of anyone for employment or did ComEd ever seek to curry favor with me,” Durkin said.
The issue federal prosecutors are looking at is bribery to influence Madigan, not job recommendations, Durkin said.
While the emails from ComEd don’t show Madigan, or even Durkin, directly emailing ComEd officials about potential job placements, they do show then-Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, directly forwarding, without comment, several prospective job placements to ComEd.
“Hi john, Just wanted to follow up with my daughters boyfriend,” a message from March 21, 2016, Cullerton forwarded. “His name is [redacted] … he was interested in a Customer Service Rep position. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.”
A message to Cullerton’s private law firm email address seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Change Illinois Executive Director Madeleine Doubek said clout is a persistent problem in Illinois.
“This is something that permeates every corner of government, both parties and is something we’ve been dealing with in Illinois for decades,” Doubek said.
It’s not illegal to make job recommendations, a point even Madigan has made in denying he knew of any effort to influence him. But Doubek said it takes a different tone when legislative leaders are involved.
“That happens in the rest of the world all the time, but when it happens in a political environment, there’s an implicit quid pro quo,” she said. “Whether it’s legal or not, there ought to be a higher standard of behavior for our elected officials.”
Doubek said the issue is difficult to curb but must be addressed.
A commission meant to tackle ethics issues at the statehouse created earlier this year hasn't met since March and failed to produce its report on time.
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