Politics

Splash corruption trial insiders fear they won’t give a drop

ProDentim

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“I’m afraid it won’t have any impact,” said in an interview Chicago’s outgoing mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has called for tougher ethics rules during her administration.

“You have people taking a stand and talking about solving this problem and taking jobs and not working. It’s awful,” she said. “And every person who testifies, every piece of evidence, every wiretapped call, I think, erodes people’s faith in fundamental democratic institutions.”

There is some sense that while Illinois cannot clamp down on corruption, there is still an element of accountability.

“The lawsuit is important because it will make people think twice before engaging in this kind of behavior if they know the federal government is watching them,” said Alisa Kaplan, executive director of Reform for Illinois, an organization non-partisan of good government.

But it was the state that produced several infamous examples of wrongdoing: former Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich (convicted of trying to sell a Senate seat)…and former Republican Governor George Ryan (convicted for accepting gifts and vacations from friends in exchange for government contracts) … and Rita Crundwell (a convicted comptroller on the run with nearly $54 million of her city’s money) and saw many members of the Chicago City Council charged or implicated.

The Four are accused of a bribery conspiracy where the public service arranged jobs for allies of former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who will face a separate trial next year on racketeering and bribery charges , without them having to do any real work. In return, the utility sought passage of the 2011 “Smart Grid” legislation and a 2016 measure that saved two financially-troubled nuclear power plants from shutting down, according to federal prosecutors.

Madigan, who led Illinois Democrats for nearly 40 years, did not appear in court, but his presence weighed in on the trial, which is taking place in the downtown Loop business district. city ​​of Chicago. And political insiders were captivated when former lawmakers and lobbyists testified about the inner workings of state government, with echoes of the politics of the once-dominant machine.

One element that draws people into the business is the audio. The former Speaker of the House did not have a cell phone and did not use email. Trial watchers were therefore particularly stunned to hear Madigan and his close aide, Mike McClain, in secret phone recordings.

The tapes were designed to cement the idea to jurors that Madigan had outsized influence over the conduct of state government, so testimony from people like state Rep. Bob Rita, a Democrat, clicked: Madigan ruled “through fear and intimidation,” he told the Researcher.

Federal prosecutors say ComEd defendants conspired to pay $1.3 million to subcontractors who did little or no work, though lawyers for the ComEd Four say their clients only participated to lobbying. Madigan denied wrongdoing but resigned from office and relinquished his state Democratic Party chairmanship in 2021 after being identified in the ComEd case.

“I have never been involved in any criminal activity. The government is trying to criminalize a routine constituent service: job referrals,” Madigan said in a statement about the federal investigations. “It is not illegal, and these other charges are also without merit. … I categorically deny these charges and look back proudly on my time as an elected official, serving the people of Illinois.

The trial is also being cautiously watched from the Capitol in Springfield. Lawmakers are about a month away from the close of their legislative session, but the ComEd Four lawsuit hasn’t sparked any bright new ethics moves.

Joe Ferguson, the former Chicago inspector general, fears it may already be too late for lawmakers to act before their session ends on May 19.

“When the indictments came out, there was a flurry of talk about reforms. But nothing was done,” Ferguson said in an interview. “That means when the legislature meets again, the trial will be a distant memory.”

House and Senate spokespersons pointed to recent changes signed by Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker that restrict lobbying activities by government officials, tighten regulations on registered lobbyists and expand financial disclosure requirements.

State Sen. Terri Bryant, a Republican who serves on the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Commission, said lawmakers were mostly watching and waiting, but remained focused on legislation in their districts.

“It’s worrying that Mike Madigan can get away with it. There’s not a person in Springfield who doesn’t think he’s as guilty as hell,” Bryant said. “If those four get away with it, how can they sue Mike Madigan? Seems like it all depends on this trial.

Despite the federal government’s numerous investigations of Illinois officials over the years, there are times when it seems politicians don’t take concerns about corruption seriously.

Early in his administration, Lightfoot had tried to push Chicago Ald. Edward Burke exited, to no avail. The mayor followed through on a campaign promise to overhaul the city’s ethics laws and introduced rules that reduce outside employment of aldermen and expand disclosure requirements for lobbyists.

But earlier this month, city council members rose one by one to praise Burke, a Democrat who spent the last four of his 54 years in office awaiting his own trial on federal charges. racketeering, bribery and extortion.

This is the kind of display that Lightfoot does not support.

“It was pretty amazing,” she said. “That’s all I will say.”

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