ComEd’s keys to suc­cess now be­ing in­spected

Feds prob­ing util­ity’s prac­tice of hir­ing for­mer law­mak­ers or Madi­gan staffers

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - BY RAY LONG

The fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ComEd’s lob­by­ing ef­forts is putting a spot­light on one of the most ex­clu­sive rites of pas­sage in Spring­field: Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and top staffers to House Speaker Michael Madi­gan leav­ing state gov­ern­ment to push the util­ity gi­ant’s agenda in the halls of the Capi­tol.

This year alone, the lob­by­ing team for ComEd and par­ent com­pany Ex­elon in­cluded nine for­mer Demo­cratic law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing two re­cent mem­bers of Madi­gan’s lead­er­ship team and the daugh­ter of a for­mer Cook County Demo­cratic chair­man. Also on the list was a for­mer Madi­gan po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor and two of the speaker’s for­mer le­gal coun­sels.

ComEd and Ex­elon have en­joyed con­sid­er­able suc­cess at the Capi­tol dur­ing the last decade, per­suad­ing the Gen­eral As­sem­bly to ap­prove a smart-grid over­haul and a bailout of the nu­clear power plants in down­state Clin­ton and the Quad Cities with con­sumers help­ing foot the bill.

Those wins took place un­der Anne Pra­m­ag­giore, who led ComEd and was el­e­vated to CEO of Ex­elon Util­i­ties. The util­ity em­ployed an army of lob­by­ists and sprin­kled mil­lions of dol­lars in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions to leg­is­la­tors, with the com­pa­nies con­sis­tently among the top cor­po­rate donors in Illi­nois.

Pra­m­ag­giore abruptly re­tired last month amid the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion. A source has told the Tri­bune she is a fo­cus of the probe, and long­time top ComEd lob­by­ists John Hooker and Fidel Mar­quez are un­der scru­tiny. Since news of the probe broke, the com­pany has parted ways with sev­eral lob­by­ists, in­clud­ing some with ties to Madi­gan.

As part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,

au­thor­i­ties are scru­ti­niz­ing cer­tain ComEd ex­ec­u­tives and have ze­roed in on pay­ments through the com­pany’s vast net­work of con­sul­tants to some in­di­vid­u­als who seemed to have done lit­tle ac­tual work, the source said. The pay­ments were aimed at cur­ry­ing fa­vor with cer­tain law­mak­ers while cir­cum­vent­ing lob­by­ing dis­clo­sure rules, the source added.

Un­der Illi­nois law, lob­by­ists must reg­is­ter with the state and dis­close their clients. The idea is that the pub­lic has a right to know when lob­by­ists are seek­ing to in­flu­ence the gov­er­nor, law­mak­ers and other state of­fi­cials on whether to sup­port, op­pose, mod­ify or delay ac­tion on is­sues and pol­icy mat­ters.

ComEd spokes­woman Jean Me­d­ina de­fended who the com­pany has hired to lobby, say­ing that ed­u­cat­ing of­fi­cials in­cludes “en­gag­ing con­sul­tants who are ex­pe­ri­enced and knowl­edge­able about pol­i­cy­mak­ing in Illi­nois.”

“Typ­i­cally, com­pa­nies who hire lob­by­ists find that ex­pe­ri­ence comes from work­ing as a leg­is­la­tor or on the leg­isla­tive staffs of the four lead­er­ship cau­cuses be­cause the cau­cuses, not the in­di­vid­ual leg­is­la­tors, em­ploy vir­tu­ally all of the pol­icy staff,” Me­d­ina said.

Madi­gan’s own name has popped up on a sub­poena and search war­rant de­liv­ered to the City Club, along with Pra­m­ag­giore and oth­ers, sources have told the Tri­bune.

Madi­gan has de­clined to ad­dress the City Club sub­poena. Pressed last week dur­ing the fall ses­sion on whether he was a tar­get of the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Madi­gan replied: “I’m not a tar­get of any­thing.”

Even so, the na­tion’s long­est-tenured speaker doesn’t have to look too far to see his as­so­ci­ates un­der fed­eral scru­tiny.

In mid-May, au­thor­i­ties raided the home of Michael McClain, a for­mer ComEd lob­by­ist who spear­headed the com­pany’s Spring­field ef­forts and a close con­fi­dant of Madi­gan. They also raided the home of for­mer 23rd Ward Ald. Michael Zalewski, look­ing for what a source said was in­for­ma­tion about ef­forts to get him ComEd work.

Around the same time, au­thor­i­ties raided the home of Kevin Quinn, brother of the 13th Ward al­der­man and a long­time staffer that Madi­gan ousted last year in a sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dal. Quinn may be off Madi­gan’s state and po­lit­i­cal pay­rolls, but the Tri­bune re­vealed that some of ComEd’s lob­by­ists sent him $1,000 checks. Au­thor­i­ties are look­ing at those pay­ments.

The FBI also ex­e­cuted a search war­rant on the Capi­tol of­fice of Demo­cratic Sen. Martin San­doval, whose district over­laps with Madi­gan’s ter­ri­tory. San­doval hasn’t shown up in Spring­field and has not re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment. But ComEd and Ex­elon have ac­knowl­edged get­ting a sub­poena about com­mu­ni­ca­tions with San­doval, whose daugh­ter works at ComEd.

In the wake of all that, ComEd has shuf­fled its lob­by­ing lineup in re­cent months. They’ve sep­a­rated from Jay Do­herty, the City Club pres­i­dent whose com­pen­sa­tion listed in fed­eral reg­u­la­tory records from 2011-18 tal­lied slightly more than $3.1 mil­lion. WBEZ first re­ported Do­herty’s pay.

The com­pany also parted ways with a firm co-owned by 36th Ward Ald. Gil­bert Vil­le­gas in Oc­to­ber. Heather Wier Vaught, a for­mer le­gal coun­sel for the speaker, did lob­by­ing work for ComEd in the spring, but that ar­range­ment too has ended.

ComEd also no longer uses two lob­by­ists tied to checks writ­ten to Quinn, the for­mer Madi­gan staffer. One of those was for­mer Demo­cratic Rep. John Bradley of Mar­ion, who once served in Madi­gan’s lead­er­ship team. The other was the firm of Will Cousineau, a for­mer Madi­gan staffer who was a long­time po­lit­i­cal point per­son for the speaker’s of­fice.

Me­d­ina, the ComEd spokes­woman, said the com­pany reg­u­larly re­views its lob­by­ing needs “and make ad­just­ments as nec­es­sary, as re­flected in our fil­ings.”

Law­maker to lob­by­ist

The re­volv­ing door be­tween the pub­lic sec­tor and the spe­cial in­ter­ests is not a new phe­nom­e­non in Illi­nois or else­where. But re­volv­ing door re­stric­tions in Illi­nois fo­cus more on mak­ing sure ex­ec­u­tive branch bu­reau­crats don’t ne­go­ti­ate a con­tract, set reg­u­la­tions or is­sue li­censes and then sud­denly go to work for the com­pany that won state busi­ness. The idea is to en­sure gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees are mak­ing de­ci­sions based on the pub­lic in­ter­est, not their pri­vate in­ter­ests.

Law­mak­ers and leg­isla­tive staffers gen­er­ally don’t fall un­der those cat­e­gories or have as many op­por­tu­ni­ties to do the kind of things that would re­quire a oneyear ban from mov­ing from state job to a pri­vate sec­tor po­si­tion.

Demo­cratic Sen. Heather Steans of Chicago plans to re­vive her ef­fort for a twoyear ban for law­mak­ers and pos­si­bly staff from leav­ing the state pay­roll and go­ing di­rectly into a lob­by­ing gig to elim­i­nate the po­ten­tial for con­flicts of in­ter­est.

Steans’ com­ments came a day after Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he was “dis­gusted” by Democrats caught up in fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions and pro­posed broader lob­by­ist dis­clo­sure rules for leg­is­la­tors to be pushed in the fi­nal days of the fall ses­sion next week.

ComEd and Ex­elon have tended to col­lect lob­by­ists whose names res­onate in the cor­ri­dors of Spring­field, in­clud­ing this year’s lineup that fea­tures nine for­mer Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and five for­mer Repub­li­can law­mak­ers.

ComEd has in-house lob­by­ists on staff who are com­pany em­ploy­ees. The util­ity also hires con­tract lob­by­ists, who usu­ally have mul­ti­ple clients.

McClain, the Madi­gan con­fi­dant, was a con­tract lob­by­ist. Un­til re­cently, so was for­mer Rep. Bradley, a close friend of McClain’s who grabbed some of his clients when he re­tired. Bradley, a six-term law­maker, was a mem­ber of Madi­gan’s lead­er­ship team, but lost in Novem­ber 2016, a ca­su­alty to a wave of Repub­li­can sup­port in south­ern Illi­nois for Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial bid.

An­other notable ComEd con­tract lob­by­ist is for­mer Demo­cratic Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Or­land Park, who shep­herded the power com­pany’s vaunted smart­grid over­haul ne­go­ti­a­tions in 2011 and left the House soon after.

McCarthy said he reached out to ComEd and some other com­pa­nies when he quit the House after 15 years, say­ing he hoped his knowl­edge of the is­sues came into play when he landed the con­tract. He said lob­by­ists are a “val­ued part of the process” be­cause they can pro­vide ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion for law­mak­ers who need it to make de­ci­sions.

McCarthy said he was “shocked” that some ComEd and Ex­elon fig­ures are un­der scru­tiny.

The list of ex-law­mak­ers now lob­by­ing for ComEd and Ex­elon re­mains ex­ten­sive.

For ComEd, that in­cludes for­mer Chicago Demo­cratic Reps. Mar­low Colvin and Howard Ken­ner and for­mer Chicago Demo­cratic Sens. An­nazette Collins and Donne Trot­ter. The Repub­li­cans are ex-Sens. Thomas Walsh of La Grange Park and David Sul­li­van of Park Ridge who once spon­sored ComEd rate freeze leg­is­la­tion; and for­mer Rep. Ed Sul­li­van of Mun­delein.

“We’re not hard-line Repub­li­cans or hard-line Democrats,” Ed Sul­li­van said. “We’re ex­perts at deal­ing with both sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum and un­der­stand the rules and how to pass leg­is­la­tion within those rules.”

Also on Ex­elon’s list of con­tract lob­by­ists is for­mer Rep. Maria An­to­nia “Toni” Ber­rios, a Chicago Demo­crat de­feated in 2014. She is the daugh­ter of for­mer Cook County Demo­cratic Party chair­man Joe Ber­rios, a Madi­gan ally de­feated in his bid for a third term as Cook County asses­sor in 2018. Toni Ber­rios’ hus­band is busi­ness­man James Weiss, whose of­fice re­cently was raided by the FBI after bribery charges were filed last month against Demo­cratic Rep. Luis Ar­royo of Chicago.

An­other con­tract lob­by­ist for Ex­elon is for­mer Rep. James Bros­na­han of Ev­er­green Park, a town in Madi­gan’s south­west sub­ur­ban sphere of in­flu­ence.

One high-pow­ered firm lob­by­ing for Ex­elon is Ad­van­tage Gov­ern­ment Strate­gies. The firm’s key lob­by­ists are for­mer Demo­cratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie and Nancy Kimme, a for­mer top aide to the late Repub­li­can Comp­trol­ler Judy Baar Topinka. Lang, a for­mer deputy ma­jor­ity leader un­der Madi­gan, pointed out that the firm rep­re­sented Ex­elon be­fore he joined.

Ex­elon’s for­mer Repub­li­can law­mak­ers lob­by­ing for the power com­pany in­clude ex-Rep. Brent Hassert of New Lenox, who runs his own lob­by­ing firm, and for­mer Sen. Matt Mur­phy of Pala­tine, who leads the gov­ern­ment re­la­tions prac­tice for Mac Strate­gies Group.

Staffer to lob­by­ist

ComEd and Ex­elon have signed up for­mer House Demo­cratic staffers who ac­cu­mu­lated a reser­voir of good­will for their be­hindthe-scenes abil­i­ties to make Madi­gan and other law­mak­ers look good. Some of those one­time staffers are among the big­gest of the hired guns, with long lists of clients and the per­cep­tion of close re­la­tion­ships with the speaker.

When Repub­li­can James R. Thomp­son served as gov­er­nor dur­ing the 1980s, one of ComEd’s most pow­er­ful con­tract lob­by­ists was for­mer top aide James Fletcher. These days, one of the most highly con­nected among the ComEd crew of con­tract lob­by­ists is Michael Kasper, who joined and worked with Fletcher’s old lob­by­ing firm.

Kasper is Speaker Madi­gan’s for­mer chief le­gal coun­sel who con­tin­ues to rep­re­sent Madi­gan and his po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion in state and fed­eral courts. He is Madi­gan’s go-to guy on elec­tion is­sues, and he’s served for years as the lawyer for the Illi­nois Demo­cratic Party that Madi­gan chairs.

Kasper’s lob­by­ing firm, which has dozens of clients, re­cently sev­ered its ar­range­ment to work on ComEd is­sues with Hooker, who long served as a top in-house lob­by­ist for the util­ity.

Un­til re­cently, ComEd also had as a con­tract lob­by­ist Cousineau, who bills him­self as the long­est-serv­ing po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor to Madi­gan and his Demo­cratic caucus. Cousineau serves as a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Cor­ner­stone Gov­ern­ment Af­fairs, which has told the Tri­bune it re­ceived a fed­eral sub­poena and is fully co­op­er­at­ing with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Wier Vaught, an­other for­mer le­gal coun­sel for Madi­gan, reg­is­tered in Jan­uary as a con­tract lob­by­ist for ComEd. She held a con­tract that cov­ered the spring ses­sion but de­ac­ti­vated as a lob­by­ist for the firm in Au­gust.

Wier Vaught helped Madi­gan dur­ing the #MeToo scan­dal that rocked the speaker’s op­er­a­tion last year. She sorted through the sex­ual ha­rass­ment case raised by cam­paign worker Alaina Hamp­ton that ended in Madi­gan boot­ing Quinn.

That scan­dal that also saw Madi­gan re­move lob­by­ist Shaw Decre­mer, a for­mer House staffer, from his po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tion when a fe­male law­maker com­plained about an abuse of power dur­ing a cam­paign. Decre­mer was off ComEd’s lob­by­ist list shortly after.

An­other ca­su­alty aris­ing from the Hamp­ton al­le­ga­tions was Travis Shea, a for­mer Madi­gan staffer ac­cused in court doc­u­ments of sex­ual mis­con­duct with two other fe­male staffers. Shea was no longer listed as a lob­by­ist for Michael Best Strate­gies, whose clients in­cluded ComEd, within days of the doc­u­ments be­ing filed in a Hamp­ton law­suit against Madi­gan and his po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tees.

Among other ComEd lob­by­ists who served as Madi­gan staffers are Margaret Houli­han Smith, Kris­ten Bauer, and Liz BrownReeve­s, who also is listed as a con­tract lob­by­ist for Ex­elon. For­mer Madi­gan staffer D’Javan Con­way also made the well-trav­eled move from state staffer to con­tract lob­by­ist for Ex­elon. He heads the Con­way Con­sult­ing Group.

CHRIS WALKER/TRI­BUNE 2012

Anne Pra­m­ag­giore, who led ComEd and was el­e­vated to CEO of Ex­elon Util­i­ties, abruptly re­tired last month.

Mar­quez

Hooker

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