Episode 5: Patterns and Practices

One of the biggest public corruption investigations in Illinois history continues. Madigan says he did nothing wrong, but he is out of politics and his political machine destroyed. We dive into the investigation, the resignations and the end of the Madigan era. Has the game changed, or do Springfield’s new power players still follow the Madigan Rule?

Featuring exclusive interviews with former governor Jim Edgar, along with state Representative La Shawn Ford, former state Senator Heather Steans, as well as journalists Tony Arnold, Mick Dumke, Ray Long, and Hanna Meisel all of whom covered Madigan. Former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady is also a guest in the final episode.

Also featured is BGA editor David Kidwell, who co-led reporting for a Chicago Tribune series “The Madigan Rules,” beginning in 2010. The name of the BGA podcast was inspired by the Tribune series title.


(00:00): When Chicago representative La Shawn Ford served under Mike Madigan and the Democratic House Caucus, he picked up some tips. You don't,

(00:08): Uh, rush with your decisions. You don't go off the cuff with your answers. You simply allow yourself to evaluate what's happening. Um, and what's being asked of you.

(00:21): When BGA board member Heather Steans was in the state Senate, she also learned a lesson or two.

(00:26): I think he very clearly understands how to wield power and get people to understand how aligning themselves with his interests or going to be in their long-term interests. And, in the rare occasion when somebody was bucking that, you see the consequences that happened to that person, and it also helps others stay aligned with his interests,

(00:53): Madigan's skill as a politician and a legislator are the stuff of legend. Everyone seems to have a Mike Madigan story. For much of his career, he was arguably the most powerful politician in Illinois. As speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, he controlled which bills moved to a vote and which died on the vine. For years, he even controlled the process that drew Illinois legislative districts and as chair of the Illinois Democratic Party, he decided which candidates received campaign resources from the party and which didn't. ProPublica's Mick Dumke says Mike Madigan had a simple formula for maintaining his grip on power: I help you. You help me.

(01:31): He can find a way, a representative in a safe district that has a lot of, uh, affluent supporters, they can raise a lot of money. They can kick it over to one of Madigan's campaign committees, he can kick it to another campaign committee, they can give it to another, uh, legislator in another district that is struggling to hold on to his or her seat. This guy over the years has mastered the art of understanding what people want and what they need and trying to deliver for them. Maybe they don't like how he does business on the big picture thing, but a lot of them owe their seats to him.

(02:08): Then in a flash, the entire dynamic changed. In January 2021, Mike Madigan stunned the political world when he lost his bid for a 19th term as the speaker of the Illinois House. Those Democratic politicians who owed everything to Madigan, they decided they'd had enough. Within days, he was no longer speaker of the House. Soon thereafter, he lost his position as a chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. He even resigned his state legislative seat, a seat he was first elected to in 1970. And here's the thing: Mike Madigan didn't retire triumphantly. He retired under a cloud of scandal. And the big question now, on everyone's mind, is whether or not he will be indicted.

(02:57): Hi, I'm Justin Kaufmann. And this is final episode of "The Madigan Rule," a podcast produced by the Better Government Association. This is Episode Five: Patterns and Practices.

(03:17): If the story of Mike Madigan's use of power is the stuff of legend, then the story of Mike Madigan's political demise is the stuff of Shakespeare: An all powerful titan dethroned by those closest to him, a master deal-maker undone by the very game he dominated over decades. The beginning of the end may have started with the sexual harassment allegations involving members of his political organization, but his problems really began due to his interactions with another kind of power player -- the electric utility company , ComEd. Madigan has been named as "Public Official A" in a sprawling federal corruption case. Federal prosecutors alleged that Illinois' major electric utility, ComEd, bribed key officials to obtain favorable legislation and utility rates from the state of Illinois. ComEd has already acknowledged wrongdoing and many of Madigan's closest associates have already been indicted. The bottom line question in this investigation seems pretty easy to understand: Did ComEd give jobs and favors to Mike Madigan and his friends in exchange for favorable legislation?

(04:17): I mean, we're talking about people's utility bills.

(04:20): BGA's David Kidwell.

(04:21): I mean, it's the state's job to control these utilities, major utilities. I mean, everybody gets their electric bills, everybody knows how expensive it is, and we're talking about rate increases that ComEd won. So the allegation is that he was trading controversial rate increases in exchange for getting his people jobs, which is building his patronage army and building his base of loyalty and taking care of his, all the people who helped bring him power. I mean, they are supposed to be watching the store for us.

(04:51): Tony Arnold covers state government for Chicago's public radio station, WBEZ.

(04:55): The claims about ComEd's bribery's scheme wouldn't really exist without Public Official A and it's clear that Public Official A is Michael Madigan. There's no doubt about that. Without ComEd's own admission, that it engaged in a years-long bribery scheme to influence the state house, to get the legislation that it wanted by giving out contracts and jobs with basically little to no work in exchange for that legislation, that is all about Michael Madigan with the caveat that Madigan faces no charges as I speak to you right now and has not been accused of any wrongdoing and, in fact, denies wrongdoing all together.

(05:34): Mike Madigan says he never used his position to influence any bill. He just says that the ComEd's smart grid bill passed in 2011 was good legislation, bipartisan even. But it's hard not to sense a pattern. Again, WBEZ's Tony Arnold.

(05:50): Madigan's influence here within ComEd, a giant power company in the country, it ranged from all the way from the board all the way down to the guys who come out and read your meters. It's literally called an old fashioned patronage network in the document. It sounds like it's something from a different era.

(06:13): That's because Madigan himself comes from a different era. He came of age politically during a time when politics involved taking care of your supporters and voters, ensuring your folks receive jobs in state agencies, political campaigns and other places. It was just good politics. It's how the Democratic machine has built and maintained an iron grip on Cook County politics for decades. Over time, the game's evolved, however. It now includes lobbyists, consulting contracts and campaign contributions. Illinois State Representative La Shawn Ford.

(06:44): Uh, you know, people became rich and wealthy off of Mike Madigan's power. He empowered people, therefore they empowered him. And so even though you have people that might think negatively about his process, even Republicans supported him, whether we know it or not, because there were Republicans that became rich under Mike Madigan's tenure.


Major corporations also benefitted. WBEZ's Tony Arnold says,ComEd learned how to play the game, as well as anyone. They hired lobbyists in Illinois who had close connections to Mike Madigan, many who were former members of his inner circle.

(07:24): ComEd had one of the biggest, if not the biggest lobbying enterprises in Springfield among any big company. Take, take your pick of big companies, uh, AT & T, Comcast. Giants in their industries. And ComEd had a bigger lobbying force than them to make sure that they got what they wanted. And when you look at that lobbying force, vast majority of them came from Madigan's network of people.

(07:50): What some call good politics and effective lobbying the feds see as a bribery scheme. Plain and simple. ComEd provided jobs in the company for friends and political supporters of Madigan. Madigan and his allies ensured ComEd received the utility rates, regulation and legislation that it wanted. Madigan, again, denies any wrongdoing. But what should we make of a bribery scandal and a federal investigation? Will the patterns and practices that propelled Madigan to the pinnacle of power proved to be the source of his undoing or will those same patterns and practices shield him from a federal indictment and conviction.


It's a story about the power that friendship and get-along-go-along politics really can produce in Springfield.

(08:37): That's Chicago Tribune's Ray Long. To understand the story around Mike Madigan and ComEd. You have to go way back to his early days in the state house to one of Madigan's contemporaries, the state representative from Quincy, Illinois, his name: Mike McClain.

(08:51): Really the the core of this goes back to the 1970s when a guy named Mike McClain from Quincy, Illinois was a state rep and he was, uh, a friend of Madigan's. Madigan put him on his leadership team when Madigan first rose to the, uh, minority leadership in 1981. And Mike McClain then ran, um, in the next election, a redistricting year on a map that he helped put together and he lost. And then, uh, he went back and did some law stuff. And then eventually he moved back to Springfield to lobby and he had this great connection with Mike Madigan. They'd go out to eat. They'd stay in touch over the years and they'd really hit it off. And then people and corporations realized that McClain had this great relationship with Mike Madigan and they wanted McClain to be their, their pitch man, their lobbyist, their hired gun. And so he became more powerful and he would be seen a lot of times just sitting outside of, of Madigan's office and he'd be holding court. And there'd be a lot of, uh, young, former staffers turned lobbyists out there, chatting up McClain to learn the wisdom of the day. And, and McClain also was the one who, who, uh, had so much access to, to Madigan that he could, uh, explain what was going on in the grander picture of things.

(10:26): And for decades, this was the practice until the middle of May 2019. In the months before the FBI had publicly rated the offices of powerful Chicago Alderman Ed Burke. But in May, 2019, the federal government raided the office of Mike McClain and other Madigan associates without much notice. The Tribune didn't report on the raid until two months later. Again, Ray Long.

(10:48): They were quiet raids. Unlike Ed Burke, where they put a butcher paper on the windows and were running in and out with boxes at City Hall. People didn't know about this.

(11:00): The feds revealed that lobbyists were using ComEd to funnel payments to Kevin Quinn. Quinn was the brother of longtime 13th Ward Alderman Marty Quinn, and the man who was accused of sexually harassing Alaina Hampton, which we talked about last episode.

(11:13): McClain had orchestrated, uh, having other lobbyists who had ties with ComEd or ties with Madigan gave, you know, checks monthly checks to Kevin Quinn to help him to get by. This started the same month that that Madigan said I've got to do better, I, I didn't do enough on sexual harassment, put a letter in the paper saying I should have done more. The Madigan folks said, the speaker didn't know this was going on, but the reason it looked bad, it was because all of his tight circle of friends were also giving checks to Kevin Quinn, the guy that he cut loose.

(11:53): The federal raids revealed more than just evidence of under the table payments. Again, WBEZ's Tony Arnold.

(11:58): McClain, unlike Madigan, likes to use email. And those emails of McClain's have shown everything from editing an inaugural speech that Madigan gave -- a lobbyist edited a speech that the house speaker gave -- to a different email where McClain is going to bat for a state employee from downstate Illinois who has kept his mouth shut about a rape in Champaign. And we still don't have any information about what that's about, but the fact is that one of Madigan's, you know, Madigan's closest aide knows about something here.

(12:36): The behavior of Mike McClain is kind of like the antithesis of what Mike Madigan would do.

(12:41): Illinois Public Radio reporter Hannah Meisel.

(12:44): And I am certain that when he got wind of very explicit ways in which McClain was trying to throw around his influence, vis-a-vis the speaker, he was probably pretty damn upset. Because it's like the opposite of the kind of like operating in the shadows playbook that has given the speaker all of his strength.

(13:06): Soon thereafter, a federal grand jury brought indictments against Mike McClain and other lobbyists, including John Hooker, who once served as a ComEd executive vice-president, and Jay Doherty, who was also the president of the City Club of Chicago. They also issued a slew of indictments against top ComEd executives, including CEO Anne Pramaggiore. Madigan denied knowing anything about the ComEd checks, the ghost payrolling or the lobbyists. He said, if that was happening, quote, it was never made known to me. Former Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady finds that hard to believe.

(13:38): When you're under a potential criminal indictment and you're trying to act like you didn't know anything was going on when you are as disciplined as everybody knows he was. And you try and say, oh, I didn't know that happened. And no, that conversation didn't happen. And I wasn't aware of that legislation when you've prided yourself for decades on being the guy that read everything and everything's going on. It's kind of the the Ken Lay, Enron defense..

(13:59): Again, Hannah Meisel.

(14:01): That's so Springfield. That's how the operation works. It is the steady stable kind of benign things like utilities that have so much power. And it's very reflective of Madigan too. Madigan's not flashy. He is very quiet, fastidious. And so, of course, he knows the power he pedals and I mean, he built it. He knows what he's doing. Does he necessarily know about every single thing that goes on? No, you know, when you're at the top of an organization, you don't know what all goes on. And you know, you also build mechanisms in where you are shielded from a direct knowledge.

(14:40): In ComEd's deferred prosecution agreement, the federal government lays out the charges. Some of the allegations range from no-work jobs for Madigan insiders paid as quote, ComEd consultants, to lobbyist Mike McClain continuing to refer to Madigan in emails as "my friend" when allegedly leaning on ComEd for jobs and contracts so as to conceal the identity of the speaker. The feds also have indicted long-time Madigan Chief of Staff Tim Mapes for perjury based on statements he made to investigators. That's an apparent effort to pressure Mapes to provide information on Madigan. Mike Madigan did not respond to interview requests for this podcast series. Now this is a great time to remind you that while some of those interviewed in this podcast state these allegations as fact, the federal charges have not yet gone to court. Chicago Tribune's Ray Long.

(15:30): What the prosecution's going to have to try to say in exchange ComEd got favorable treatment from the speaker. Now ComEd has already admitted to putting people on the payroll and doing things for Madigan in hopes of, of him looking favorably upon them. Um, and they paid a $200 million fine, the biggest in the Northern District, ever. And so the company has admitted this, but they have a deferred prosecution agreement basically that says, uh, uh, you're on the hook for one count of bribery unless you cooperate with us for the next three years. And if you do cooperate, that count goes away, but you still have to pay that big fine. And so we have the question of whether ComEd and the U.S. Attorney's office and all of the cooperation that's going on with regard to this case can pull in Speaker Madigan, ex-speaker Madigan now.

(16:41): The arrests and the indictments in 2019 may have gotten attention, but this federal case actually goes back many years to 2014. Here's BGA's investigative reporter, David Kidwell, who was writing about this back in 2014 for the Tribune.

(16:54): They ran a wire on Mike Madigan toward the end of our series. They had a former alderman by the name of Daniel Solis. He's he was involved in the in the Ed Burke corruption trial. What's so interesting about this there are parallel cases. Ed Burke, who's the dean of City Council who came up in the same sort of patronage system, the most powerful alderman in the city of Chicago while Mike Madigan is the most powerful politician in the state of Illinois. They both have these property tax appeal businesses, uh, and they ran this former alderman, Daniel Solis, they strapped a wire. He was wearing a wire for two years and they got Ed Burke to make the deal out loud. There's a tape recording of Ed Burke saying, "hey, you know, you hire me and I'll do this for you at City Hall." He said it out loud. He got indicted. They did the same thing with Mike Madigan. This former alderman, Daniel Solis, went in with a potential client and was trying to talk, talk this deal through and Mike Madigan, wasn't having any of it. He would tout his firm he'd say, hey, yeah, we do good work. He would never commit to the deal.

(17:56): So without Madigan on tape admitting to any wrongdoing, how will the feds build a case? Again, David Kidwell.

(18:04): In my experience in covering federal corruption cases, the feds typically have, they have a playbook and there are typically two ways that they make these cases. One of them is to strap a wire on somebody and send them in and try to get them to get politicians to incriminate themselves. They tried that on, on Mike Madigan as early as 2014. It didn't work. He didn't say the words, uh, because he doesn't have to. The second way they do it is they start picking off the people around him, the people who were in the room and threatening them and their families and cajoling them into entering cooperation agreements. Commonwealth Edison has entered into a cooperation agreement. It has not led to charges against Mike Madigan yet, the implication is there that any one of these people could help to implicate Mike Madigan, even though the charges have not come yet.

(18:59): Kidwell says it's all about patterns and practices.

(19:02): The property tax appeal business was a way for him to gain his personal wealth, what he would typically do. And we found case after case, after case after case. It was an incredible coincidence that they would hire Madigan and Getzendanner at a time when they were seeking something from the state that they got.

(19:23): Mike Madigan stepped down from his 22nd district seat earlier this year. And he has retired from public office, from public life. Determined to wait it out, to fade away from scrutiny. And that might be a winning strategy. The U.S. Attorney, John Lausch, the prosecutor in charge of the ComED bribery scandal, is on a short leash. WBEZ's Tony Arnold.

(19:42): I mean the top prosecutor in Chicago got an extended leave to continue on his role when the new president was pretty upfront in saying that he didn't want him around anymore. And he got this leave to stick around, to continue his work on essentially a very sprawling corruption probe that seems to be looking at, if not targeting, Madigan. And here we are almost a year into his, his extended term and there's still no charge against Madigan. I think it's a valid question to ask is Lausch facing some pressure here to show some results and bring a charge against Madigan, given that he was allowed to stick around by Senator Durbin asking Biden to, to let him stick around.

(20:28): BGA's David Kidwell.

(20:29): He has left. Has left the public sphere. Um, and, and the speculation is he did that to weaken them. What, what the hope is is that they're less likely to come after a guy who's no longer in public office, thinking, hey, the job's done, he's gone. Um, and so, uh, we'll see how it plays out.

(20:54): Many others involved in the scandal don't have that option. So far, the federal investigation has led to several charges against lobbyists and ComEd officials. But the indictments also refer to former aldermen, precinct captains, other political consultants, and a ComEd executive, Fidel Marquez, who pled guilty to bribery charges. It cost ComEd $200 million in fines, as well as several top ComEd executives their jobs. Others are awaiting trial. And the ComEd scandal cost Mike Madigan the political power he built and maintained for nearly 50 years. But ask veteran politicians whether Madigan will be indicted and the answer isn't clear. Here's former governor Jim Edgar.

(21:32): I will be more surprised than not if he gets indicted. Mike Madigan always worried about the law and not stepping over it. I mean, he, he, he took a lot of measures to make sure that he did not do something that was illegal. Now that's not to say that he didn't maybe make a mistake or if he goes to a jury trial, he could be innocent, but they'll find him guilty. Politician doesn't win with a jury trial.

(21:58): And again, WBEZ's Tony Arnold.

(22:00): I don't think we have the full picture yet on the downfall of Michael Madigan. And we might not until we see what the charges are if there are charges at all. So right now I think Madigan's legacy is his longevity and his ability to build an enterprise with a wide-ranging power that hasn't been matched and probably won't be matched in my lifetime.

(22:25): Chicago Tribune's Ray long is actually writing a book on Mike Madigan. It's coming out in 2022.

(22:31): Look, I don't think they're going to get him. We know that he is humiliated by the, by the situation that took him down in Springfield. But the reality is that until, or unless there is some kind of indictment, he's not going to go out as a totally corrupt guy. He's, he's going to be seen for the long winning streak, the 36 years that he served as speaker. It's hard to just say, Hey, Madigan's a corrupt guy, but there are a lot of fingers pointing in his, in the direction. And the ComEd case, the case where ComEd admitted to doing things that were wrong to win Mike Madigan's favor is probably the biggest thing that's hanging over his head right now.

(23:27): Michael J. Madigan is the longest serving statehouse speaker in U.S. History. And after all we learned about his career through this five-part series, it's safe to say that he's truly the most powerful politician the state of Illinois has ever seen. But while his accomplishments are plenty, he's also been at the center of some disappointments. His fiscal record on pensions, his ethical conflicts, his indifference to racial inequity and the powerful patronage army make it hard to call him a hero. But on the flip side his huge wins for Democrats in the state of Illinois and legislative wins like keeping the White Sox in Chicago, make him far more complex than the cartoon villain. Politics is not black and white. It's not a clear line. It's an art form using shades of gray, crafting narrative, twisting arms while putting on a public face. It's about following the rules and sometimes making your own. And it turns out in Illinois that Mike Madigan made his own rules, but he didn't have the last say. The feds were watching and listening. And before long we'll find out their verdict on the Madigan rule.

(24:41): Well, that does it for the "Madigan Rule". Podcast produced by me, Justin Kaufmann, the executive producer, David Greising, the Better Government Association. Special thanks to Steve Edwards for story editing and to Alex Sugiura for the music. A quick shout out to the "Madigan Rules" series and the Chicago Tribune that both BGA reporters, David Kidwell and John Chase worked on 2010 to 2014. For more information on BGA investigations or to listen to all the episodes of this podcast, you can go to bettergov.org.

Clarification: Commonwealth Edison has signed a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, in which it pledged not to contest the facts in a future bribery case against the company. An earlier version of the podcast and transcript stated Commonwealth Edison had pled guilty to bribery.

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