Mar 14, 2023 - News

What to know as the "ComEd Four" bribery trial begins in Chicago

Photo illustration of Michael Madigan with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Today, the long-awaited "ComEd Four" bribery trial begins in Chicago.

Why it matters: Federal prosecutors allege former ComEd executives conspired to bribe people close to former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan in return for favorable legislative packages, some at the expense of Illinois consumers.

Catch up fast: Two ComEd executives, along with former City Club president Jay Doherty, are accused of creating an elaborate scheme to give jobs, board seats, payments and perks to Madigan cronies.

  • The fourth defendant is Madigan's longtime confidant, former state lawmaker and ComEd lobbyist Mike McClain, who is alleged to have been the go-between for ComEd and Madigan.
  • One alleged benefit for ComEd was a controversial rate hike, passed by the Legislature in 2016, which bailed out nuclear power plants and gave ComEd more control of the state's energy sector.

Flashback: The co-defendants were indicted on bribery charges in 2020 and have pleaded not guilty.

  • ComEd admitted in court that year to funneling money to Madigan associates as part of an agreement to resolve its federal criminal investigation. They paid the government $200 million in fines.

Between the lines: McClain is the centerpiece of this trial because of the lobbyist's longstanding relationship with Madigan.

The big picture: The trial is considered a precursor to Madigan's own trial, scheduled for 2024.

Context: Political hiring and patronage in government have been restricted due to several court rulings over the years.

  • The prosecution is alleging that Madigan and his associates sought to use the public utility company as private-sector patronage, securing Madigan allies jobs and board appointments.

Of note: Madigan was accused of doing similar hiring at the transit agency Metra in 2013.

What they're saying: Madigan, McClain and the other defendants deny any wrongdoing, suggesting that the federal government is criminalizing legal lobbying that routinely happens in politics.

What we're watching: Madigan is likely to be invoked, though not always by name, in recorded conversations over the course of the trial.

  • Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore allegedly refers to Madigan only as "our friend" in one recorded call with McClain.
  • The trial is expected to last two months.

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