Illinois lawmakers react to ‘ComEd Four’ convictions and actions that led to them: ‘Shockingly gluttonous and unhealthy to democracy’

Illinois lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday were quick to condemn the actions of the “ComEd Four” defendants, who were found guilty of charges they participated in a scheme to bribe former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in exchange for favorable legislation.

“How many indictments is too many? How many more court rulings do we need to make unethical behavior stop?” state House Republican leader Tony McCombie of Savanna said at a GOP news conference following the verdicts. “There’s definitely some folks on the other side of the aisle that are honest, transparent and work in good faith. Now whether or not they can get the rest of the Democratic Caucus to follow their lead will be the question that only time will tell.”

In separate statements, the two top Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly offered stinging rebukes to the conduct of the four defendants, former ComEd contract lobbyist Michael McClain, a longtime Madigan confidant; former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore; ex-ComEd executive John Hooker; and Jay Doherty, who worked as a lobbyist for ComEd for 30 years and served as president of the City Club of Chicago civic forum.

They were all convicted of bribery and falsification of business records.

“After reviewing the entirety of the evidence, this jury has sent a clear message that the behavior of the defendants was criminal,” said state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from Hillside who replaced Madigan as House speaker in January 2021. “Since my election as Speaker, I’ve been clear that restoring trust in government was paramount.”

State Senate President Don Harmon speaks on Dec. 14, 2022 during an event at the National Hellenic Museum to celebrate the completion of construction on the Jane Byrne Interchange.

State Senate President Don Harmon speaks on Dec. 14, 2022 during an event at the National Hellenic Museum to celebrate the completion of construction on the Jane Byrne Interchange. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat said in a statement that “the behavior brought to light and put on display at this trial was shockingly gluttonous and unhealthy to democracy.

“We’ve taken concrete steps to discourage bad behavior. But most importantly, I believe we have people committed to behaving better.”

Harmon’s comments were an apparent nod to a series of ethics laws passed by the legislature in the last two years. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office also referenced those measures when asked his reaction to the verdicts, while also saying that the “governor believes we must restore the public’s trust in government and today’s verdicts are proof that no one is above the law.”

Shortly after Madigan left office in 2021 amid his own indictment in a related criminal case involving Commonwealth Edison, the legislature passed a series of reforms that aimed to prevent lawmakers from lobbying their former colleagues right after leaving office. The measures also required additional disclosures from officials on personal financial interests and allowed a legislative inspector general to initiate investigations of alleged wrongdoing.

Some good-government groups at the time, along with the then-legislative IG and various GOP lawmakers, highlighted what they viewed as several weaknesses with the reforms. Among the criticisms was that the changes didn’t give the legislative IG enough independence to pursue allegations of misconduct by legislators.

Despite those perceived shortcomings, some Democrats on Tuesday say it’s too early to judge the effectiveness of the reforms.

“I think that there are situations where we all work with people and stakeholders and advocates and lobbyists and that’s OK to work with them obviously, right?” state Rep. Margaret Croke, one of 19 Democrats who voted to oust Madigan as House speaker in 2021, told the Tribune.

“To me, it makes sense that they were found guilty. But what I hope this doesn’t do is stop the good advocates, and the grassroots advocates and all those people who are trying to change the state of Illinois for the better (and) feel they’re at all limited in how they can approach us and work with us,” Croke said.

Assistant House Majority Leader Jay Hoffman, a Democrat from Swansea, indicated that the ethics reforms passed in the last two years “exceeded” expectations of what could be passed in Illinois. But he also said he’d still be open to passing additional ethics legislation if necessary.

“We passed historic legislation,” he said outside a committee room in the Capitol. “It went into effect. Let’s see how that plays out long term.”

Croke, the Chicago Democrat who also joined the House in 2021, agreed.

“It’s hard to say something goes far enough when you haven’t seen what the real implications are going to be,” she said. “So I would say we need to see those ethics reforms almost settle in, and then after they settle in and if people are still able to skirt the rules or still feel like there’s either a moral or ethical obligation to change those rules, we should do it.”

Senate Republican Leader John Curran, of Downers Grove, a former assistant Cook County state’s attorney, said in a statement that the convictions show “no one is above the law” and that he hopes they will “be a catalyst for changing how business is done in Illinois government.”

During the GOP’s late afternoon news conference, Deputy Republican Leader Ryan Spain, called the convictions a “sad state of our politics in Illinois.”

“For too long, we have allowed the core ethical behavior of people like Mike Madigan, his associates and others to become the way we do business in the state of Illinois. And unfortunately the Madigan way is still the way in which our government works here in Springfield,” Spain said

Madigan is scheduled to go to trial in 2024 on federal racketeering charges that allege his elected office and political operation were a criminal enterprise that provided personal financial rewards for him and his associates.

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May 2, 2023 at 08:25PM

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