A year after indictments in ComEd bribery scandal, few reforms to curb corruption

(The Center Square) – It’s been just over a year since four people were indicted in the ComEd bribery scheme to influence former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, but the matter is far from over and lawmakers have since passed limited reforms to curb corruption at the statehouse.

ComEd admitted the bribery scheme in the Summer of 2020. The company subsequently agreed to pay a $200 million fine and to cooperate with federal investigators.

Around a week before Thanksgiving last year, three former ComEd officials and a close Madigan confidant were indicted.

Madigan has not been charged with a crime, but he was labeled as “Public Official A” in the ComEd deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors. Madian was also the subject of a special House investigation. That committee released ComEd emails the day before Thanksgiving last year that referenced “our friend,” which was widely seen as a reference to Madigan. The House committee never subpoenaed Madigan to testify before concluding without any action. Madigan has denied wrongdoing. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said Madigan needs to answer questions about his actions.

In January, Madigan wasn’t reelected as Speaker, a seat he held for all but two years since 1983. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from Hillside, was elected Speaker. Madigan later stepped down from the office of state Representative before the end of his term and helped select his successor.

His former chief of staff and House clerk Tim Mapes was indicted in May.

The Chicago Tribune reported in August federal investigators continue to investigate, but offered no hints on new charges.

A message seeking a status update from the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday.

Katten Muchin Rosenman, the law firm Madigan’s campaign committee has paid more than $2.6 million for legal services since the start of the year, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

David Parker, director of St. Xavier University’s Center for the Study of Fraud and Corruption, said without regular updates the public can become apathetic or disillusioned.

“I think some of that too is that people are just kind of waiting with bated breath and they hope and then maybe there’s a little disappointment that people are just going to walk away,” Parker said.

One former ComEd official pleaded guilty to trying to bribe Madigan associates. A trial for the other defendants is set for September 2022.

The ComEd scandal is just one instance of corruption or alleged corruption at the statehouse. With other former state lawmakers being charged and pleading guilty to bribery and other charges in recent years.

Lawmakers did pass some measures to address ethics concerns.

“The days of utility companies writing energy legislation to pad their profits has ended because this proposal puts consumers and climate at the forefront, prioritizes meaningful ethics and transparency reforms, and institutes key ratepayer and residential customer protections,” Welch said in September after the passage of a sweeping energy bill.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said Democrats enacted other provisions reducing the power of the Legislative Inspector General.

“So the legislative watchdog resigned over their supposed reform that they passed and we’re staring down her resignation date of Dec. 15 without a new Legislative Inspector General in place,” Bourne said.

Lawmakers left last month without appointing a new inspector. They don’t return until early January.

Parker said with the legal process dragging on in the ComEd case and few reforms seen to address corruption coming from the statehouse, there are some remedies voters have.

“Don’t re-elect them,” Parker said. “Put somebody in there and keep putting somebody in there until we have someone who’s going to step up and make changes that we want to see.”

The next election is November 2022.

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