Four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists plead not guilty yesterday in a long-running federal dragnet into bribery and patronage hiring to curry favor with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Former ComEd President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore — who arguably once was Chicago’s most powerful female business executive — and top Madigan adviser and former Quincy State Representative Michael McClain were arraigned on charges of bribery conspiracy, bribery and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records. Also appearing in federal court via video conference to answer those charges were ComEd’s former top in-house lobbyist, John Hooker, and former company lobbyist Jay Doherty, the one-time head of the City Club of Chicago public affairs organization.
Federal investigators have charged the 4 of them in their roles to allegedly orchestrate a bribery-filled lobbying effort between 2011 and 2019 aimed at influencing Michael Madigan to help pass legislation that would financially support the energy company. The company was able to pass a Smart Grid bill in 2011 that has cost 4 million northern Illinois electric rate customers more than 30% on their bills, amounting to approximately $2.3 billion in revenue according to a WBEZ investigation. The utility has admitted in court documents that it funneled consulting payments to a litany of the powerful speaker’s allies for doing little or no work for the state-regulated, public utility giant. The company also acknowledged engaging in the illicit bribery scheme that involved paying about $1.3 million to members of Madigan’s vaunted 13th Ward political organization on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
At Wednesday’s hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber began the proceeding by acknowledging that he served in the Illinois General Assembly at the same time as McClain — albeit as a Republican. Leinenweber said he didn’t associate with the defendant much during that time period, and they haven’t seen each other in the four decades since then. Leinenweber also said his wife served on the board of Constellation Energy before they merged with ComEd’s parent company, Exelon.
McClain and Pramaggiore each face a total of nine criminal counts. Prosecutors charged Hooker and Doherty with six counts. When combined, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of decades in prison if convicted. In the 50-page indictment involving Pramaggiore and the three others, federal prosecutors made clear their belief that Madigan himself — repeatedly identified in court papers as “Public Official A” — played a role in the wrongdoing, though he has not been charged.
Calls for Madigan to step down as House Speaker continue to grow. State Representative Kathleen Willis became the 19th House Democrat on Tuesday saying she would not support another term for Madigan in the chair. Willis, a one-time political ally of Madigan’s, is the House Democratic Caucus Chair. Willis’ Tuesday announcement makes her the first House Democratic leader to say publicly she won’t vote for Madigan to remain speaker.