3rd Demo­crat in Spring­field says Madi­gan should yield speaker’s gavel

State Sen. Steans says ComEd al­le­ga­tions ‘un­der­mine public trust in gov­ern­ment’

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MITCHELL ARMENTROUT, STAFF REPORTER mar­men­trout@suntimes.com | @mitchtrout

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.

JUSTIN L. FOWLER/THE STATE JOUR­NAL-REGIS­TER VIA AP

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

COMED

A law­suit seeks to force ComEd to re­fund at least $150 mil­lion to its cus­tomers.

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