Editorial: House Speaker Michael Madigan exerts unbridled power – chicagotribune.com

12 Jun

On the evening of Nov. 6, Democrats who win seats in the Illinois House will begin receiving phone calls. Speaker Michael Madigan will phone each winner on Election Day to ask an important question: “Will you support me for speaker?”Eagerly, they will. After bankrolling many of their campaigns, Madigan always collects his candy. A voice vote during lawmakers’ swearing-in ceremony two months later makes it official. The “ayes” have it. Madigan slides back into the chair.At the age of 70, the nation’s longest-serving statehouse speaker doesn’t care much about appearances. He bristled at a Tribune series this week from reporters John Chase, David Kidwell and Ray Long. He called the stories “more garbage” from “garbage haulers who work for a bankrupt company.” How mature.

The stories delved into Madigan’s layered roles as a law firm partner, House speaker and chairman of the state Democratic Party. Though Madigan insists he avoids conflicts of interest and abides by a pledge to recuse himself, clients of his law firm benefit from his dominance in the legislature. In recent years, bills unfavorable to the banks Madigan represents at his firm got watered down or held in Madigan’s Rules Committee, the reporters found. This year, he softened a bill cutting Medicaid rates, which would have harmed his nursing home and pharmacy clients.

He also leverages his power for political revenge, even at taxpayers’ expense. For five years, he blocked bond refinancing for McCormick Place. Why? A Crain’s investigation found Madigan stonewalled because McCormick Place’s CEO had fired one of Madigan’s friends. Stalling the refinancing also helped two of Madigan’s legal clients. In the meantime, taxpayers, who subsidize McCormick Place, lost out on a bond deal that could have saved them hundreds of millions of dollars.

Is there a smoking gun in this crime scene, a small-caliber pocket pistol with a hot barrel? Of course not. Madigan is much too clever for that.

But what cannot be ignored is this implicit fact: The confluence of Madigan’s roles does not allow for clean lines. To suggest otherwise is pure fantasy. Watch the lobbyists, lawyers and consultants swing through the House speaker’s office door on any session day, many of whom hire his law firm to fight their property tax assessments or to provide “legal guidance.” You don’t need an ethics expert to deduce that something is very wrong in Illinois.

Legislative leaders who have private business interests should be required to disclose far more information about their moonlighting, so voters can judge what’s a conflict. (Senate President John Cullerton and House Republican leader Tom Cross have law practices, too. Senate GOP leader Christine Radogno does not.)

We could start with a list of clients and the nature of the business relationship — why firms are being hired. Voters deserve to know how much the firms are paid. Other outside sources of income should be fully disclosed, including investments and tax returns.

City of Chicago workers who earn more than $80,700 a year are required to list real estate investments, spousal relationships that overlap with city business and capital gains. The disclosure requirements for everyday city workers far exceed those of the state’s most powerful politicians. That’s absurd.

Chicago aldermen who practice law must disclose every client who does business with the city. Members of Congress, who are not permitted to hold outside jobs, disclose income derived from investments, along with their spousal sources of income, property they own and more.

•••

One more tale of arrogance from the Tribune stories Madigan calls “garbage.”

A few weeks before the March primary election, a campaign operative for Madigan stopped by the campaign office of Carole Cheney, a Democrat from Aurora running for the Illinois House. The Madigan emissary, Shaw Decremer, informed Cheney that Madigan was going to back one of her opponents. Then Decremer asked Cheney to take a photo with him. “I keep pictures of all the people we beat,” he said.

A trophy case, eh?

Madigan backed Stephanie Kifowit of Aurora, who won the primary.

We don’t know if Decremer asks for pictures with the people Madigan boosts into office.

But here’s a good question for voters in the 84th House District to ask Kifowit before Nov. 6.

No, not whom she’s going to back for speaker. That’s a given.

Ask her this: If you’re elected, will you even listen to us? Or will Madigan always come first?

via Editorial: House Speaker Michael Madigan exerts unbridled power – chicagotribune.com.

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