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Madigan's role with Democratic Party could cause headaches for politicians, observer says

State Journal Register

Monday, February 22, 2021  |  Article  |  Dean Olsen

Political Parties (Incld Tea Party) (39a) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22

Michael Madigan may be gone from the Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly, but his influence on the political process in Springfield persists.

 

And the connection between Madigan, a Chicago Democrat and speaker of the Illinois House for 36 of the past 38 years before Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside took charge of the speaker’s gavel last month, could create political problems for Welch, Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Senate president, a political observer and campaign-finance expert says.

 

Madigan’s status as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois and his control over state-regulated campaign funds that spent almost $27 million last year on political campaigns, legal fees and related tasks could be used to taint candidates, according to Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.

 

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, responds to questions during a press conference at the Illinois State Capitol, Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Springfield, Ill. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

 

Madigan’s involvement also could complicate matters for Democratic donors and campaign fundraising for the new speaker, Redfield said.

 

“People gave him money because he was powerful,” Redfield told The State Journal-Register. “Now he’s less powerful. The calculus has changed. Giving money to the Democratic Party of Illinois was considered giving money to Speaker Madigan. If he remains the party chairman, are you giving money to the party or to Madigan?”

 

Madigan resigned from his 22nd House District seat on Thursday. His departure from the General Assembly after a 50-year legislative career came after his failed attempt to win another two-year term as House speaker.

 

Madigan’s loss of support among House Democrats accelerated over the past two years amid an ongoing federal bribery investigation involving Commonwealth Edison and others implicated in an alleged scheme to gain Madigan’s support for legislation benefiting the Chicago-based utility.

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Madigan, 78, who has declined media interviews in recent weeks, denied any wrongdoing and hasn’t been charged.

 

But with Madigan still heading the statewide Democratic Party — the party to which Welch, Pritzker and Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park belong — and with Madigan’s continuing control of the political funds, Republicans would have even more ammunition to tie Democratic candidates to “dirty money” from Madigan, according to Redfield.

 

Madigan’s involvement with the campaign money also could confuse donors who in the past maximized the amount of money they could legally give to Democrats by donating to one of four funds controlled by Madigan, Redfield said. Madigan was able to legally transfer the money between funds.

 

But with Madigan no longer directly involved with legislation, donations to some of those funds would come with less assurance the money would influence bills or gain access to lawmakers, Redfield said.

 

Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science, University of Illinois Springfield

 

“It would make life simpler for the legislative leaders and Pritzker if Madigan withdrew from the party leadership and the campaign funds,” Redfield said.

 

Madigan spokesman Eileen Boyce wouldn’t comment on Madigan’s plans regarding the party chairmanship or the political funds.

 

Bill Houlihan, a Springfield resident and an Illinois Democratic State Central Committee representative for the 18th Congressional District, wouldn’t comment on whether Madigan should resign.

 

But Iris Martinez, a former state senator from Chicago and one of two 4th Congressional District representatives on the Illinois Democratic State Central Committee, said Madigan should resign for the good of the party.

 

The controversy surrounding him isn’t helping candidates, Martinez said. Madigan needs to make a “clean break” from the party in favor of new leadership, especially with new legislative maps being drawn in 2021, she said.

Martinez, the Cook County circuit clerk, said she would like to see a “woman of color” as the new party chairperson, though Martinez, who is Hispanic, isn’t interested in the post.

 

“We need a change from the old guard,” she said. “This is the perfect time. The last election proved that we’re in trouble.”

 

Martinez said the central committee’s bylaws allow for the removal of the chairman, who is elected by the committee members, but she wouldn’t comment on that possibility.

 

Madigan is one of two Democratic State Central Committee members from the 3rd Congressional District. He is serving a four-year term as the party’s unpaid chairman that is up in spring 2022. He has been chairman since 1998.

 

The campaign funds Madigan controls are called the 13th Ward Democratic Organization (Madigan remains the committeeman for Chicago’s 13th Ward), the Democratic Party of Illinois, the Democratic Majority (supporting Illinois House candidates) and Madigan’s personal campaign fund, Friends of Michael J. Madigan.

 

The funds together had a balance of $18.8 million as of Dec. 31, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

 

In 2020, the Friends of MJM fund had $13.5 million available, with $1.9 million available in the Democratic Party fund, $890,605 in the Democratic Majority fund, and $2.5 million in the 13th Ward fund.

 

Campaign finance laws won’t allow Madigan to retain control over the Democratic Majority fund because he is no longer a legislative leader, Redfield said.

 

Pritzker has called on Madigan to step down as party leader, and the governor agreed with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, that Democrats suffered electoral setbacks in November because of Madigan’s refusal to step aside after his alleged position in the bribery scheme came to light.

 

The constitutional amendment that Democrats supported to change the state’s income tax from a flat rate to a graduated system failed. Madigan ally and state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride failed to win retention for a third 10-year term.

 

Republicans made a net gain of one seat in the Illinois House, and in central Illinois, Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield lost in her 13th District congressional seat challenge of incumbent Republican Rodney Davis of Taylorville.

 

Harmon didn’t respond to requests to comment for this story. Welch spokesman Sean Anderson said, “The speaker is focused on leading the Illinois House of Representatives, and is leaving any decisions about the party between former Speaker Madigan and the party officials.”

 

Redfield said state law allows elected leaders controlling political funds to spend money in the funds on legal costs related to their official positions.

 

Madigan’s fund paid more than $1.6 million in 2020 to the Chicago law firm Katten Muchin Rosenmann for “legal fees related to the ongoing federal investigation,” Boyce said without elaborating.

 

And in the fourth quarter of 2019, the $445,000 that Madigan’s fund spent on legal fees included money to cover a $275,000 settlement in a civil case brought by former campaign staffer Alaina Hampton, Boyce said.

 

Hampton had filed a federal case against the campaign committees Madigan controls and alleged that former Madigan aide Kevin Quinn sexually harassed her.