Former Speaker Madigan enters not guilty plea to corruption charges

By Peter Hancock 
Capitol News Illinois

Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan

SPRINGFIELD – Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and his longtime political ally Michael McClain entered not guilty pleas Tuesday, Nov. 1 to bribery and corruption charges involving utility giant Commonwealth Edison and telecommunications company AT&T Illinois.

Both were charged previously in the ComEd scandal, but federal prosecutors last month added new charges involving AT&T after that company entered a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay a $23 million fine.

ComEd entered a similar agreement in July 2020 and agreed to pay a $200 million fine.

In those agreements, the companies admitted they engaged in yearslong schemes to bribe Madigan by making payments or awarding jobs and contracts to his associates in exchange for favorable legislation.

In the case of AT&T, the alleged bribes were in exchange for passage of a 2017 “carrier of last resort,” or COLR, bill that gives the company the opportunity to opt out of a requirement that it offer landline service to any customer in its service territory who requests it, if approved by the Federal Communications Commission.

In the case of ComEd, that involved the 2011 Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act, which established a formula-based system of setting utility rates that effectively bypassed the Illinois Commerce Commission. It also involved the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act, which, among other things, provided ratepayer-funded subsidies to two nuclear power plants owned by ComEd’s parent company Exelon.

The 23-count indictment, which was unsealed Oct. 14, charges both men with multiple counts of bribery, racketeering, wire fraud and use of interstate commerce facilities to carry out illegal activity.

Both Madigan and McClain waived their rights to appear at the arraignment Tuesday, which was conducted by teleconference in federal court in Chicago. Their not guilty pleas were entered by their attorneys.

Madigan has consistently denied any wrongdoing, saying the alleged bribes had no influence on his legislative decisions, and he has defended the utility legislation as good public policy.

His arraignment came exactly one week before the Nov. 8 general election in which Republicans are hoping to make gains in the General Assembly by tying Democratic incumbents to the so-called “Madigan Machine.”

During a news conference Tuesday following the arraignment, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, wouldn’t predict how many seats, if any, Republicans stand to gain in the election, but he said there needs to be an effective check against Democratic power in the General Assembly.

“Our caucus is working very hard, but Illinoisans need a balance of power,” he said. “They need to see some type of, you know, checks and balances in the House of Representatives.”