EYE ON ILLINOIS: ComEd data dump kicks House special committee back into gear

Friday news dumps are a reporter’s scourge, but the load released Thanksgiving eve was something special.

State Rep. Emanual Chris Welch, chairman of the House Special Investigating Committee exploring House Speaker Michael Madigan’s role in a Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal, issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon announcing the panel received more than 100 documents from the utility giant.

Welch, D-Chicago, said Republicans and Democrats on the committee asked for the "documents which underlie the deferred prosecution agreement and were previously obtained by federal investigators." He also pledged to post the haul on the General Assembly's website. To read for yourself, along with other committee files, visit tinyurl.com/ComEdDataDump

There hasn’t been much to say about the committee lately because it hasn’t done anything. The panel heard from one inconsequential witness and last met Sept. 29. Republicans repeatedly pushed for another session, redoubling those efforts after a Nov. 18 announcement of bribery and conspiracy indictments against Michael McClain, a former ComEd lobbyist and close Madigan confidant, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd executive John Hooker, and Jay Doherty, a ComEd contract lobbyist.

Even while his House colleagues issued rapid-fire statements removing support for Madigan’s bid to remain speaker, Welch held off on scheduling a meeting. That is until the trove of documents arrived with almost everyone punched out for a long weekend — and Welch thinking he has his trump card.

“It’s clear that a full, honest reading of these documents shows that associates of ComEd assisted with job recommendations for people from both parties, both chambers and multiple branches of government,” Welch wrote in his statement, announcing a Dec. 14 committee hearing.

According to Capitol News Illinois, the documents — emails from 2010 through April 2019 — detail several requests from McClain, purportedly on behalf of “our friend” Madigan, to get favors and jobs from ComEd. And they do name people like House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who got the ball rolling on the committee and has been openly antagonistic toward Madigan.

But just because Durkin’s name is included doesn’t mean he did anything untoward. At the committee’s last meeting ComEd’s David Glockner said Durkin didn’t “communicate a lobbyist request.”

Durkin spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis went on the offensive, accusing ComEd’s timing as a protective maneuver for Madigan. Like Welch, she also asserted “these emails speak for themselves.”

With two weeks until the hearing, and no veto session occupying lawmakers, rhetoric should intensify. It’s worth remembering the committee can only issue a report with charges — a majority vote is required — thus creating a 12-member discipline panel.

News dump or not, what happens in federal court is far more likely to make a real impact on Madigan and his inner circle than the legislative committee.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.