3rd Democrat in Springfield says Madigan should yield speaker’s gavel
State Sen. Steans says ComEd allegations ‘undermine public trust in government’
And then there were three. State Sen. Heather Steans added her name Tuesday to the very short list of Democratic state legislators calling on Michael Madigan to resign his speaker post immediately over the “sordid picture of bribery, influence peddling and insiderdealing” that federal prosecutors have outlined between ComEd and the Southwest Side political powerhouse.
While others in the Illinois Democratic Party chaired by Madigan have tiptoed around calls for him to resign — carefully adding the qualifier that he should do so only if the allegations are proved true
— Steans said “not only does this [alleged ComEd scheme] undermine public trust in government, but it will cost Illinois ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“It is clearly time for a change.” “Some will argue that the speaker is innocent until charges are filed and he’s proven guilty. But those are not the standards that should apply to his leadership role,” the North Side Democrat said. “Serving as speaker is not a right; it’s a privilege. A leader’s actions must avoid even the perception of wrongdoing. Speaker Madigan repeatedly has violated that trust.”
Steans was a key Democratic force in the Illinois Senate behind the legalization of marijuana, among other pieces of legislation.
A spokeswoman for Madigan declined to comment on Steans’ statement. The longtime speaker has denied any wrongdoing. ComEd is accused of handing out jobs, contracts and money to Madigan allies in exchange for favorable legislation, but the speaker has not been charged with a crime.
Steans joined state Sen. Melinda Bush, DGrayslake, who called on Madigan to step down from his speaker and party chair posts “effective immediately” when U.S. Attorney John Lausch laid out the case against the utility giant July 17.
Since then, while numerous Republicans have called for the ouster of their longtime nemesis, only one Democrat in Madigan’s House chamber has called for his resignation without the caveat of a criminal charge or conviction: Naperville Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, the freshman state legislator who campaigned on a promise to vote against Madigan as speaker.
“We need him to resign. It harms our ability to get things done as legislators whether or not he’s guilty,” she said.
Stava-Murray was one of 12 members of the Illinois House Progressive Caucus who signed a statement last week that called the ComEd scheme an “unacceptable breach of the public trust” — but offered only a conditional call for Madigan’s resignation “if these allegations are true.”
Other prominent Democrats from Gov. J.B. Pritzker to Cook County Board President Toni
Preckwinkle and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have been similarly cautious in their verbal reprimands of Madigan.
Stava-Murray acknowledged her own stance was “slightly diluted” by the caucus statement, but said the ambiguity “made it easier” for others to sign on.
And she made it clear to the SunTimes that she is not putting any conditions on her call for the speaker to surrender his gavel.
“I think there are more Democrats out there than we hear about that I think would be closer to my position — more than people realize,” she said.
A lawsuit filed Monday seeks to put ComEd on the hook to reimburse customers at least $150 million for rate increases that were gained through a bribery scheme the company admitted it took part in.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, comes 10 days after it was announced ComEd had struck a deal with federal prosecutors to pay a $200 million fine to the U.S. Treasury Department and admit its participation in a bribery scheme that handed out jobs, contracts and money to friends and allies of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan in order to receive favorable treatment for legislation.
That legislation ultimately meant higher electricity bills for ComEd customers, said attorney Stephan Blandin, who filed the suit on behalf of several individuals and businesses in the Chicago region.
“ComEd thinks they can just admit it, pay a fine, and get on with it. It’s mind-blowing,” Blandin said. “We want each dollar that was overpaid to get refunded to those ratepayers.”
According to federal prosecutors, ComEd benefitted at least $150 million from the scheme, but Blandin believes the number to be far greater.
“We allege the damages are in the hundreds of millions and perhaps billions,” he said. “Potentially 4 million ComEd customers were affected.”
Blandin said he’ll be seeking financial documents from ComEd and its parent company, Exelon, to determine exactly what rate hikes are attributable to the bribery scheme.
The suit was filed in Cook County. A court date has yet to be assigned to the case.
“We apologize for the past conduct that did not live up to our values and have made significant improvements to our compliance practices to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again. The improper conduct described in the deferred prosecution agreement, however, does not mean that consumers were harmed by the legislation that was passed in Illinois,” ComEd said in a statement.
“The DPA makes no such allegations, and in fact the bipartisan legislation resulted in substantial benefits for ComEd’s customers, including 70% improved reliability since 2012 and billions of dollars in savings for customers.”
A spokesperson for Madigan didn’t return requests for comment.
Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan during a Springfield session in May.
State Sen. Melinda Bush
State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray
State Sen. Heather Steans
A lawsuit seeks to force ComEd to refund at least $150 million to its customers.