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Bipartisan calls for Illinois legislators to distance from Madigan’s political money amid patronage scandal

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Friday, July 24, 2020  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Pay to Play, Corruption , Political Parties (Incld Tea Party) (39a) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22 , Rita, Robert "Bob"--State House, 28 , Stava-Murray, Anne--State House, 81 , Wehrli, Grant--State House, 41

(The Center Square) – There are bipartisan calls for Illinois Democrats to step out from underneath the millions of dollars of political money House Speaker Michael Madigan controls.

A patronage scandal involving a utility and people connected to Madigan, who’s the Democratic Party of Illinois chairman and Illinois House Speaker, could lead to increased scrutiny on political funds he controls.

Madigan, D-Chicago, hasn’t been charged with a crime, but a recent deferred prosecution agreement with ComEd that the federal government released implicated the speaker in a nearly decade-long patronage scandal.

Longtime Illinois politics observer and University of Illinois Springfield professor Kent Redfield said legislative leaders from both parties have control of their individual committees and party political funds. But Madigan controls four funds.

Those funds are the Democratic Party of Illinois with $2.4 million currently, the Democratic Majority fund with $4.3 million, the 13th Ward Democratic Org with $2.2 million and the Friends of Michael J Madigan fund with $13.6 million. That’s a total of $22 million that Madigan can move around heading into the November election.

“The fact that he controls multiple committees and has the ability to move money into, around and between those committees puts him in position to raise a lot of money and use that money to influence elections,” Redfield said. “It also creates relationships between the interest groups that want to influence legislative races.”

While there are caps on what individuals can contribute, there are no limits on transfers between funds, Redfield said.

The ComEd deferred prosecution agreement released last week implicated Madigan, saying that the utility paid someone to pass money to a Madigan associate in an effort that evaded public disclosure.

State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said it’s time for Democrats to stop taking Madigan’s money.

“That’s how he controls you and that’s also how he gets unknowing participants to run as candidates, he showers them with money,” Wehrli said. “That is his power. Stop taking it. Stop enabling him.”

State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, didn’t support the speaker in his most recent election by members of the House. She said that’s allowed her the independence to be critical of the speaker, something she did before and after getting elected.

“I found that personally, my financial freedom from reliance on their money has allowed me to be forthcoming in how I feel,” she said. “And if we all step up and ask for a change then we can have some leadership that we can have confidence in that’s running our state party and hopefully different leadership that we have confidence in that’s the speaker of the House.”

Democratic state Rep. Bob Rita said there are campaign finance rules in place.

“It’s not just a Democratic issue, it’s a Democratic and Republican issue when you talk about campaign finance and depending on the nature and where the donations came from and who they came from is something we should look at down the line, and that could be tied into this ethics package when we get the details on that,” Rita said.

“A lot is in the details of what transpired and how different donations are acquired,” Rita said. “We have some strict guidance on campaign finance now and it’s worth looking at, but as long as we're in the guidelines, this is for all parties, not just Democrats or Republicans or Independent, anyone running for public office.”