To understand how Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan has kept his decades-long grip on state politics, it helps to consider August A. Olivo.
Over the years, the younger brother of former 13th Ward Ald. Frank Olivo has done his part to help the speaker’s political interests, including giving $8,100 to Madigan’s 13th Ward Democratic Organization and gathering signatures to help get the speaker’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, on the ballot.
Before then, the speaker was Olivo’s sponsor when he wanted a favor from former Gov. George Ryan, according to a once-secret list that tracked perks Ryan doled out when he was secretary of state. Madigan helped Olivo get a low-digit license plate — a symbol of clout — from Ryan’s office, records show.
And Olivo has gotten much more from other branches of government in which Madigan, who is also the state Democratic Party chairman, holds sway. At 52, Olivo is retired from the Cook County Highway Department, collecting a county pension of $81,204 a year. Since 2011, he’s been working for another government agency, the CTA, where he makes $80,194 a year managing warehouse operations in the transit agency’s purchasing department.
He’s one cog in the political machine of government workers who have helped Madigan build a veto-proof majority in the Illinois House, where he’s reigned as speaker for all but two of the past 31 years — a span far exceeding that of any governor — becoming a powerhouse far beyond the halls of the Capitol.
It’s impossible to know exactly how many people in government posts have given money to Madigan-controlled political funds or how many owe their jobs, promotions or pensions to the Democratic leader from Chicago’s Southwest Side. One complicating factor is that there are few records that reflect when the speaker has pushed for a job or promotion. Also, Illinois law requires occupations and employers of campaign contributors to be listed only when individual gifts top $500, making the extent to which Madigan supporters like Olivo get taxpayer-funded paychecks difficult to assess.