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After ComEd-Madigan patronage scandal, Illinois Republicans demand special session

(The Center Square) – Illinois House Republicans are calling out Democrats for not doing more to bring about ethics reforms following revelations longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is implicated in a criminal complaint against ComEd alleging bribery of public officials.

“The Speaker of the House, Democrat Party Chairman Mike Madigan is … called public official A in the ComEd federal deferred prosecution agreement,” state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, said during a virtual press conference Tuesday. “Let’s be clear … ComEd has agreed to the corruption findings. That’s why they’re paying $200 million. They are not implied findings, that are not even in dispute between the feds and ComEd.”

ComEd “arranged jobs, vendor subcontracts, and monetary payments associated with those jobs and subcontracts, for various associates of a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois, to influence and reward the official’s efforts to assist ComEd with respect to legislation concerning ComEd and its business,” the office of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch said Friday in a statement.

State Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, said Tuesday that Madigan has not been charged with a crime. Rita was in Springfield to attend a Legislative Audit Commission hearing.

“It’s early on and if these allegations are true then time will tell on that and take the appropriate actions,” he said. “At this time, it’s all premature on what we’re hearing and what we know and very limited facts on what went on, but if and when the allegations are true, then appropriate actions should be taken.”

State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said that doesn’t cut it for elected public servants.

“Democrats should not use that ‘if proven guilty’ or ‘if these allegations are true.’ We ourselves need to hold ourselves to higher standards,” he said. “And by saying ‘innocent until proven guilty’ as if we’re in a court of law is not the standard. It’s a false narrative.”

Republicans are demanding lawmakers come back to the Illinois Capitol to address ethics reforms. Rita said any reforms must be vetted by the Legislative Ethics and Lobbying Reforms Commission, which he said was sidelined by the pandemic.

“Going through it correctly rather than just coming back without legislation, without the commission finishing its work and hearing what that report is so that we can actually craft a bill that achieves the goals set out to addressing some of these ethics issues,” Rita said.

The commission was supposed to produce a report by the end of March but didn’t.

State Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, listed a slew of bills Republicans have filed and supported for years. But, he said it’s clear from the four-day pandemic special session in May that Democrats aren’t serious about changes.

“Why was a toll bridge in Will County or unionizing horse racing more important than ethics reform? There’s one answer: The Speaker of the House stopped those bills from being called,” Ugaste said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker wouldn’t commit to calling a special session when asked this week.

Messages seeking comment from the House Speaker’s office weren’t returned.

“The joint committee was making progress prior to the pandemic and we look forward to finding ways to get back on track,” Senate President Don Harmon spokesperson John Patterson said in an email.

As to the overall federal investigation, Harmon, D-Oak Park, said lawmakers will need to take action.

“The admission of wrongdoing by ComEd is enormously troubling and will likely require a legislative response,” he said. “I’m continuing to watch and gather more information from this unfolding federal investigation.”

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