The [Thursday] Papers
By Steve Rhodes
"In his rise to the pinnacle of Illinois politics, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan built a reputation for wielding control over every bill, every budget line and every Democratic representative elected to oversee them," the Tribune reports this morning.
"Away from the public eye, the state's ultimate power player enjoyed a similar rise in his private career: rainmaker for one of Chicago's most successful property tax law firms.
"In a first-of-its-kind examination, the Tribune found these two careers repeatedly intersect, and in some cases Madigan took public actions that benefited his private clients."
I'm grateful for the Tribune's fine report, but I wonder: Why is this a first-of-its-kind examination? Or, to put it more clearly, why has Michael Madigan gotten such a free ride for all these years?
"As a public official, he got a private road behind a shopping mall repaved, helped secure state funding for an expanded tollway interchange and intervened for a developer looking for state cash. In each case, Madigan was a private lawyer for businesspeople who stood to benefit.
"His list of clients multiplied as Madigan consolidated political muscle over the last two decades. Now, many of his decisions as speaker have the potential to affect someone who has hired Madigan & Getzendanner in hopes of having a tax bill lowered. The Chicago firm represents banks the state regulates, investment houses that have overseen billions of dollars in public pensions, developers who want roads - all subject to decisions made by a state House in the firm control of their tax lawyer."
And let's face it: He's been the real governor of Illinois since George Ryan left office.
"He declined Tribune requests to detail how much he makes beyond his annual legislative income of more than $95,000. He also declined requests for his appointment calendars, memos and e-mails, citing state public records law that exempts the legislature. Madigan also refused requests for an interview."
And why shouldn't he? The media has let him get away with having spokesman Steve Brown shill for him for years rather than do his duty as not only the House Speaker but more recently as the chairman of the state Democratic Party and answer reporters' questions.
"In a written statement, he defended his actions and said 'my personal code of conduct and compliance with a wide range of government ethics provisions have ensured that I have maintained ethical standards'."
His personal code of conduct also apparently includes a refusal to answer reporters' valid and entirely justified questions. Some might say that's even unethical.
"That code of conduct - provided to the Tribune and unpublished until now - states that Madigan will not offer state benefits to get a client, will not intercede with a state agency for a client and will recuse himself from involvement in a bill ]if a client of the law office expresses an interest in legislation such as to create a conflict of interest'."
"But a Tribune examination of public records and a review of more than 20,000 tax appeals filed by Madigan's firm since 1998 raises questions about where the speaker draws that line."
"In his written statement, Madigan said there are no conflicts of interest in the Tribune's findings, which he described as 'strained attempts to link my legislative actions to clients of the firm who might remotely and incidentally "benefit" from such action'."
Really? Like these?
"Madigan called the director of the state's largest pension fund, the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System, in 2005 asking the director to hear a pitch from the developers of a minority-owned firm seeking pension fund money to invest in a Chicago affordable-housing project. The developers hired Madigan's firm to appeal the taxes on property in that project for that same year.
"Madigan pressured the state's multibillion-dollar public pension funds to ban any dealings with financial institutions that make high-risk loans to unqualified homeowners. In 2006, Madigan named four national banks in a letter to the state's pension managers that asked the funds to stop investing and making deposits with any banks that practice predatory lending. All the banks he named were competitors of his firm's banking clients, a fact not disclosed in his letter."
Also from the Trib's coverage:
1. Terry O'Brien makes $80k for MWRD, and $100k+ for his business that is dependent on the customers of the MWRD. For that alone he wins the City of Chicago "Ubi Est Mea?" award.
2. Accountant Dorothy Brown couldn't say how much cash she's received (or given) at birthday party over the years. She did mention that her parents sent eight kids to college before dying in charity hospitals, which is somewhat admirable but has nothing to do with the county, except for the part about the charity hospitals where they would doubtlessly die more quickly now. Must be nice to go from such humble upbringing to being driven around in a Ford Expedition (particularly when your job has no safety concerns and is 99% in one central location . . . where is Chicago's Dukakis? Isn't there someone who is elected and takes mass transit with the plebes? Maybe the CTA would get some sensible funding if there were someone). Line of the night from the moderator - Brown asked him if he ever got birthday presents in the form of cash, he responded, "
3. Toni Preckwinkle comes off as too smart for her own good. She'd doubtlessly be the best board president but is also probably the second worst politician of the group. The others just savaged her on her aldermanic record, etc. Despite my admiration for her intelligence, I have to note that she also admitted that she doesn't use the Internet. On the other hand, Todd Stroger said AOL was one of his two favorite Web sites, because it's where he checks his e-mail. I wonder if he conducts county business using that personal AOL account.
4. Todd is still the Toddler and part of me will be sad when we don't have him to kick him around any more. I think he lied outright about nine times but he's always got that shit-eating grin on his face . . . what's not to love about that? If we're going to stick with a hack I'd take him over Brown; at least he doesn't make me entirely nauseated when I have to listen to him.
* Meeting Up Now. Robot City and Hip Suburban Moms.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Mastered.
Posted on January 21, 2010
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