Pritzker after Madigan indictment: 'corruption and self-dealing among Illinois politicians must end'

Governor JB Pritzker is responding to the federal indictment of former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.

The governor spoke at an event at Northern Illinois University Thursday morning.

"An indictment of this magnitude is a condemnation of a system infected with promises of pay-to-play. The era of corruption and self-dealing among Illinois politicians must end," Pritzker said.

Madigan is the most prominent politician swept up in a series of federal raids and indictments targeting Illinois Democrats.

The stunning federal indictment all but ensures Madigan won't be on the ballot in this fall’s election. But that likely won’t stop Republicans from using Madigan’s grim-faced likeness in an effort to taint Democrats after the ex-House speaker was charged with 22 counts of racketeering and bribery.

When he resigned a year ago, the Chicago Democrat was the longest serving legislative leader in U.S. history, with decades-long control of the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party and the disbursal of tens of millions of dollars in campaign funding. Now, GOP candidates for governor down to comptroller are calling for opponents to explain their relationships with the disgraced powerbroker.

"Mike Madigan has used all levers of his power and position for his corrupt personal benefit and control," said Rep. Ryan Spain, a Peoria Republican. "This legacy has been known for years by Democrats who have enabled him."

Bill Brady, the former Senate minority leader and 2010 GOP candidate for governor, said Democrats "will be set back on their heels" because they’ll spend valuable time answering questions about their relationship with Madigan at the expense of promoting their agendas.

"Any time, out of the chute, you have to start by defending yourself against something, rather than starting with a positive, talking about the things you want to get done, it puts you at a tactical disadvantage," Brady said.

Madigan was first implicated in July 2020 when Commonwealth Edison pleaded guilty to bribing Madigan with subcontracts and do-nothing jobs for Madigan loyalists in exchange for favorable legislation, paid a $200 million fine and agreed to cooperate.

Madigan denied the allegations this week saying, "I was never involved in any criminal activity."


Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin, the Aurora mayor who has thus far conducted his campaign by news release, called Democratic Gov. Pritzker the "Forrest Gump of Illinois Corruption" for repeat appearances.

That’s a reference not only to the indictment’s allegation that Madigan promised a high-paying Pritzker appointment to a friendly Chicago alderman in exchange for legal work, which Pritzker denied was ever discussed, but to then-candidate Pritzker’s 2018 apology for offensive comments he made about Black candidates in an FBI wiretap conversation a decade earlier with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who served prison time for political corruption. Pritzker is not accused of wrongdoing.

"I am fully committed to eradicate the scourge of corruption from our political system, and today’s indictment is an important step in cleaning up Illinois," Pritzker said in a statement Wednesday.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, long an outspoken Madigan critic, lambasted Democrats for not acting sooner.

"They should have demanded the truth. That’s Gov. Pritzker and all the House Democrats," Durkin said. "Many of them stuck their head in the sand."

But many did the unthinkable. A cadre of Democratic women legislators, already frustrated with Madigan’s response to several sexual harassment incidents among members and staff, stood up in the fall of 2020 and pledged not to back him for another term at the helm.

"The history on this is very clear that it’s the Democrats that got rid of Mike Madigan," said longtime Democratic political consultant Peter Giangreco. "It started with the 19 House members that led the fight to deny him another term as speaker, the governor weighing in and saying that it’s time for Mike Madigan to go. You have to remember, Democrats got rid of Mike Madigan."

When the ComEd prosecution deferral became public, Pritzker immediately said Madigan should answer questions fully or resign and forcefully repeated himself after stinging electoral defeats that fall.

Madigan’s successor, Democratic Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, was also singled out for Republican recrimination. He was chairman of a special House investigating committee Republicans demanded in fall 2020, but shut it down when witnesses refused to testify and he declined Republicans’ requests for subpoenas.

Wednesday, Welch explained, "I made it clear that this matter needed to be handled in a court of law. ... The full weight of the justice system was needed to ensure all charges are investigated properly and thoroughly."

Associated Press contributed to this report.