During five decades leading state government, Mike Madigan engineered stirring victories and suffered painful losses. From patronage to pensions, ethical conflicts to sexual harassment–and ultimately, a federal investigation that brought him down.
In the fourth installment of the BGA’s limited series podcast “The Madigan Rule,” host Justin Kaufmann looks into Michael J. Madigan’s political legacy featuring conversations with former Governors Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner, State Representative Kelly Cassidy (14th), Former State Representative Ken Dunkin (5th), State Representative La Shawn Ford (8th), State Representative Will Guzzardi (39th), Alaina Hampton, Dave McKinney, John Chase, Pat Brady, Ray Long and Amanda Vinicky.
(00:05): In the spring of 2011, Kelly Cassidy won a special election to fill a vacancy in the Illinois House. She beat out more than 20 opponents for the role. With her victory, she not only became a state representative, she became part of the Democratic House Caucus led by speaker and party chairman, Mike Madigan. Like others, Cassidy knew of Madigan’s power and influence. Even though she was a freshman representative, she wasn’t a newcomer to state politics. She worked for a powerful state Senator, John Cullerton, back in the nineties. But as a new elected representative, she began to question Madigan’s power over her and her colleagues.
(00:42): The pivotal moment for me, that really changed my thought process as far as operating within that caucus, was in my first summer in office. We had a special session day and we were in, in caucus in a, in a committee hearing room. The fire alarm went off and I dutifully put my things in my bag and stood up and looked around and nobody was moving. I was the only person standing. There were folks with concerned looks on their faces, but I just was like, what just happened here? And then he, he motioned for everyone to rise with his hands and we all stood up and walked out. And I just spent the rest of the day wondering what in the name of God I had just experienced. And that probably set me down the questioning path a little more quickly than I maybe would have gotten there on my own.
(01:38): I’m Justin Kaufmann. This is “The Madigan Rule,” episode four, “What Goes Up.” This podcast is a production of the Better Government Association. Madigan’s 36 years as house speaker is loaded with controversy. Throughout his tenure government reformers, Republicans, and even some Democrats, complained about how much control he had over state government. They bristled at the brazen way he used his political power to drive business for his law firm and the way he seemed to care more about power than public policy. Many speculated about ethics violations, conflicts of interest and corruption allegations. Over the years, investigative journalists and federal prosecutors uncovered widespread evidence of corruption inside Chicago City Hall, the judicial system, the secretary of state’s office and transit agencies like Metra. There were bribery scandals, pay-to-play schemes and investigations involving ghost payrolling, jobs for political favors and performing campaign work on government time. But throughout his 50 years in office, Madigan himself was never prosecuted for wrongdoing. And each time a scandal affected the Democratic Party, Madigan would preside over the legislative effort to pass reforms to state law. But as time went on more serious cracks in Madigan’s armor began to appear. One of the biggest came in early 2018. Top story here is emotional
(02:59): reaction this morning from a woman who once worked for Speaker Mike Madigan’s office, as she detailed sexual harassment allegations by her supervisor, a key aide.
(03:07): Alaina Hampton claims that her career was sabotage after she was
(03:11): House Speaker Michael Madigan is facing the scrutiny for his handling of sexual harassment.
(03:16): It is leading to a political firestorm,
(03:17): Including one candidate. Amid the national swirl of the #MeToo movement, a 28-year-old female staffer from Madigan’s organization came forward to claim she was repeatedly sexually harassed by a member of Madigan’s team. And Madigan did nothing to stop it. Her name, Alaina Hampton.
(03:33): I was terrified. There was no HR set up in this organization so the only two options I had to report it to was the brother of my harasser or the most powerful politician in the state, Mike Madigan. I opted to go with the brother of my harasser and I was in a really bad position. I didn’t have a good option to go to.
(03:57): When Hampton went public with her claim, state Representative Kelly Cassidy stepped forward to demand answers from Madigan and later led a very public push for reform.
(04:07): Th the most telling thing about Alaina’s story and so many of the other survivors that we, that we’ve ended up speaking to over the years since we’ve come forward, it is just how common the experiences. I mean, I was, I was very young staffer on campaigns and you know, a lot of what is not okay today was brushed aside. I mean, if you’re a woman working in politics, you knew that you didn’t have anywhere to turn. The typical process for handling a complaint like this in a, in a campaign would be what he tried to do in this instance, which is “knock it off.” And that was, that was obviously not enough. Anyone else who was harassing someone on a campaign would get a, knock it off and would probably knock it off. Um, he thought that knock it off was the appropriate response. Cause it always worked before.
(04:56): Kelly Cassidy. Hampton worked for Madigan’s political operation for five years, first as a field organizer for candidates and then as a program specialist within the office of the speaker of the House.
(05:07): I was a little naive about the situation. When I reported it, I reported it twice. The second time I mailed a letter to his house. I thought that he would call me personally, but his lawyer did. And I think I should have known from that point that it was going to be really serious. Two months went by where his lawyer didn’t follow up with me. I was in denial for a couple of months. And then when the story went public, I had hired attorneys. I think it kind of caught them off guard because I was such a loyal employee to them for so long. And I was always the employee that said yes to everything they asked me to do. I mean, really I worked all over the suburbs, all over the city that so many state representatives know who I am because he would send me out to their campaigns to knock on doors. So I think I was naive in this situation and I think I caught them off guard.
(06:02): Hampton filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Democratic Party of Illinois, the Democratic Majority, the 13th Ward Democratic Organization and the friends of Michael J. Madigan campaign fund.
(06:13): When people would read my story, they would think, wow, she’s so brave. And this is such a monumental moment that someone would act so young, a young woman would go against the most powerful man. And I think I never saw it that way. And I think it’s in part because I worked with him more frequently than most. And I didn’t just read about him in the paper or see him on TV. He was very humanized to me. So I never felt like I was, you know, suing this extremely powerful man. I felt like I was seeking justice for myself. And I felt like if I did this, it would be helpful for people in the future as well. But working for the most powerful man, I mean, it was a learning experience to say the least, and I wish it could have been different, but I still learned a lot.
(07:07): Hampton’s story led to a number of new state laws and procedures to help protect women from harassment and discrimination. Madigan’s long-time chief of staff, Tim Mapes, resigned over the scandal and it led many to call for Madigan to resign as well. But Madigan weathered the storm. He went on to win reelection in 2018 and a year later, he settled the lawsuit with Hampton for $275,000.
(07:36): Alaina Hampton’s sexual harassment claims weren’t the only challenges to Madigan’s power and reputation. A growing fiscal crisis in the state, including ballooning pension debt, rising taxes and lower bond ratings, angered many voters. Some took their anger out on the governor’s office, but over time, more and more people recognized the one constant over the last five decades wasn’t the governor. It was Michael Madigan. And then there was political patronage, the practice of providing jobs for political loyalists. It was outlawed in 1991 as part of the Shakman decree, but in 2013 an investigation showed it was still happening, just not in government instead, an independent agencies. Here’s WBEZ reporter, Dave McKinney.
(08:18): It laid bare how patronage was alive and well in Illinois. And Mike Madigan was a master of it. And you know, you talked to the former executive director of Metra, Alex Clifford, who basically forced out of his job. And you know, this happened after he put on the brakes to, uh, you know, efforts to get pay increases for some, some Madigan people. You’re talking about a rail agency that that delivers, pre-pandemic, that was delivering hundreds of thousands of commuters to their, their jobs downtown every single day. And yet it was just a dumping ground for people that had, you know, circulated petitions for Mike Madigan or who were precinct captains for him, or who did something else that he wanted for them. You know, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. It’s the very old way, the old Chicago way of doing business. And he was a master of it.
(09:07): And in the end Madigan weathered the Metra scandal too, but six years later, a new federal investigation surface that would directly implicate Madigan and his top associates. And this time Madigan wouldn’t be so fortunate.
(09:18): Just about an hour ago four people charged in the ComEd bribery scandal pleaded not guilty. The defendants include one of the closest confidantes…
(09:26): Four lawmakers announcing today that they are joining the growing chorus of those who say they will not support Mike Madigan’s bid to be re-elected Speaker in January. And the governor. Four people charged in a bribery scheme that’s embroiled House Speaker Michael Madigan entered not guilty pleas today. Madigan saying in a statement, the truth is I have never engaged in any inappropriate or criminal conduct despite baseless speculation alluding to the…
(09:49): In 2019, federal prosecutors opened an investigation into the state’s largest electric utility, Commonwealth Edison. They accused the CEO and other top leaders in the company of illegally providing jobs to members of Madigan’s team in exchange for favorable legislative and regulatory treatment. So far, the investigation has led to the indictments of four people, including Madigan’s confidante, Mike McClain. Also Madigan’s chief of staff, Tim Mapes, also charged for perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury. But the investigation and the trials related to it, aren’t over. Federal indictments, all but named Madigan as Public Official A. So far, Madigan has not been indicted. Despite the growing questions, voters re-elected Michael Madigan for the 25th consecutive time in November of 2020. But by the time he was sworn into office, two months later, things had changed dramatically. In January of this year, the rock solidly loyal Democratic caucus refused to re-elect him as speaker of the House. And just like that, after a series of deadlock votes, Madigan was gone. He resigned to speakership and shortly thereafter resigned his seat in the state legislature, a seat he held for 50 years. When he left, he stepped down as the longest serving house leader in American history. Political reporter, Amanda Vinicky was there.
(11:11): What’s striking to me, I guess, is kind of these two visuals of Madigan, right? So he loses the speaker’s race and made some comments on the floor, but it wasn’t a particularly poignant speech, and then left. When it’s over, answers a couple of questions, nothing truly meaningful, and then walked down this hallway by his lonesome. If it was a movie, I mean, if this podcast was a film, there you go. It’s the, it’s the end. And it is something cinematic. Walked off alone.
(12:13): It is. We talk, you cannot ignore the ComEd scandal, but he hasn’t been indicted, denies knowledge of any scheme, let alone participation in it and may never be. And yet what a downfall. I mean, what a, what a quick turn. And it is incredible to me how almost quietly he left that stage, both literally and metaphorically. When he lost the speaker’s race, bowed out of it really. Although again, let’s touch on that. It’s still pretty incredible that you’re Public Official A and had fewer than 20 members of a caucus leave you. I mean, that is loyalty.
(13:07): Loyalty, discipline, discretion, controlling the money and controlling the spoils, mastering the rules and making the rules. Madigan mastered the art of politics over 50 years and ruled with unquestioned power and influence during his tenure. But in the end, what is his legacy? We pose that very question to dozens of people we interviewed for this podcast, including loyalists and reformers, Democrats and Republicans, governors, legislators, and reporters.
(13:43): Of course, you’re going to get a lot of losses if you’ve been around for half a century, but what’s his. That’s really the question. And the chameleon part plays in. It’s not as if he was the speaker elected to improve education. He didn’t have a mission to make Illinois the most diverse or to bring in business to improve the state’s fiscal footing. He didn’t have that. He had seemingly as what was in his heart, soul, what he woke up with, uh, an eye toward and his goal when he went to bed at night, at least when it came to Illinois politics, which is seemingly the end all be, all of his existence, is winning.
(14:39): Mike Madigan. You know, whatever I say, and anyone else say good or bad about him, this man had, um, has had a mass, a level of power that is unprecedented, and we will never see it again. His fifty years of reign translated too many times there were way too many examples of public corruption that was under his watch as a leader in politics.
(15:07): I’ve just have a certain amount of respect or a great deal of respect for his abilities to get his folks elected. But where he crossed the line is it’s, it’s not that power was used for things that should wasn’t supposed to be used for. And if you look at the relationship between his real estate tax appeals practice and his position as speaker of the House, and there are many, many, many, many other instances that were reported on some of them, weren’t where Mike Madigan used his position and his authority, um, in a manner which I think is corrupt. If you look at the condition of the state and particularly it, where we are sitting right now and how the tax appeal process has been screwed up terribly to the detriment of many, many poor people in the state. I go, I think you can point the finger, right at Mike Madigan.
(15:48): If he winds up not being indicted and convicted, then I would say, you know, he becomes this, this kind of a subject that, you know, students of government study for a long time about how did this guy manage to stay in power for as long as he did. I mean, I don’t know how old you were, uh, Justin in 1971, but I was in first grade. The, the idea that like the guy could stay in power for that long is, uh, it is, it is definitely worthy of study. How did it happen? And, and is it a good thing or a bad thing?
(16:21): He was absolutely a powerful politician who changed the landscape and sort of boosted the Chicago way if you will, uh, throughout Illinois. Um, and that, that won’t ever change, whether he’ll be viewed as corrupt. A lot of people certainly do view him, regardless of what happens with the Commonwealth Edison situation as corrupt and as somebody who played insider baseball on insider rules, connived his way through Illinois politics. Some people absolutely believe that, but, you know, he would be able to, as he stands today to say, I haven’t been charged with, with anything, let alone convicted. And that would be true. So, you know, and that I played by the rules and politics is an ugly business. And so I think that is still an unanswered question. After, you know, so many years of living under, uh, Mike Madigan as speaker of the house, that’s still, isn’t a hundred percent answered.
(17:17): I would believe that if Madigan looks back on his legacy and his career, he failed the Black community. Big time. When we talk about Illinois being a union state and Madigan defending union rights and union labor and labor. Black people were not a part of that workforce. Mike Madigan had the power to make sure that the Black community had a middle-class. When you go up and down the streets and you see construction projects going on, he had the power to make sure it was diverse. There is no doubt that the people that live in Mike Madigan’s district they’re in the middle class, not because they are doctors and lawyers, but because they are city workers, state workers, and they have contracts from government. So these people in these neighborhoods were given opportunities through Mike Madigan and his relationships. Black people were not given those opportunities. And that’s where you see a failed Democratic Party and Chicago and in Illinois.
(18:34): In some ways I think Madigan is the quintessential Chicago machine politician. I mean, he came up in that organization, learned it, breathed it, and like the part of him that ultimately led to his end, I think was like true blue Chicago machine of like, I’m gonna look out for so-and-so in the neighborhood’s kid and make sure that they have an internship. Like that’s, I mean, could it be more of a classic Chicago machine story than that? Right. But I think also he transcended the Chicago machine and came to this level of statewide power.
(19:12): I don’t think he could do it anymore because that old system, I, in my opinion anyway, was based on patronage and getting people jobs that worked for you. And I think the law has evolved. And the way people view that kind of behavior has evolved that it’s just not going to happen anymore. People don’t get jobs like they used to for, for political favors. So I think there might be power in other ways, and maybe the new power’s money, which is equally corrupt, but I don’t think we’ll ever see another Mike Madigan.
(19:39): Well, my personal view is elected officials who have a position elected by the voters to be in government, should not be party officials. I think the party should have different people in those important spots, including chairman of the party. I really think it’s unhealthy. Having too much power concentrated in one person is bad for Illinois. I was for term limits. I think in retrospect, Mike Madigan would have been much, much better off if we had won that court case because I’m sure it would have passed the referendum for term limits, Eight Is Enough. He would have had eight more years. And, um, on we go.
(20:17): Look at at how long he was there. Look at, look at how much power he had. He controlled the General Assembly. He controlled the Democratic Party. He became a multi-multimillionaire, extraordinarily wealthy, from his. And his only thing was politics.
(20:31): Not long after I first spoke out, I was at a Democratic Party of Evanston event, um, and was seated with, uh, the late Ab Mikva, who had asked to be seated with me because he wanted a chance to talk to me about what had just happened. And, and he, he gave me a lot of, gave me a lot of love for it, but also said, you know, I’ve always told folks that the best and the worst things that have come out of Illinois politics have Mike Madigan’s fingerprints all over them. And we can’t forget the best part, but we really got to deal with the worst part. And I really carried that with me for the remainder of, of this process of, you know, just this, this really thoughtful guy, you know, who, who, you know, was a lion to all, so many of us in progressive politics, you know, that little nugget of wisdom. I just carried it around in my pocket, like a worry stone. You know, he’s just a guy, right? He happens. He’s a guy who’s very, very good at his job, but we all have the same job. And, you know, looking at him as a human, makes it a lot easier to do what you need to do to get justice for yourself.
(21:35): I think it will be very, very hard to believe someone would come along and duplicate what Madigan has done. The politics nowadays are so much different. And he was so incredibly disciplined that he was there from the beginning of the constitution, sitting on the constitutional convention that put the constitution in place in 1970, all the way up to 2021, that is an incredible run. He was the speaker 36 year run. It’s the nation’s longest. I don’t see anybody passing that.
(22:12): I think 20 years from now, uh, when Mike Madigan’s camp comes up to people who were contemporaries of his, what, what you’re going to get is a lot of what we got. A chuckle and an eye roll and saying, you gotta love Chicago, man, because he is a product of this town. And he’s not the only one it’s, uh, it’s, it’s a long history of people like that who, undercurrent of corruption, whether it’s actually there or not. Uh, and, uh, uh, no matter what happens with this ComEd thing and, and it seems to be very, very serious. I think that that’s essentially what his legacy is going to be. Yeah, he was a very powerful guy for very long, but you gotta, you know, you gotta love him. You gotta love it. You gotta love that guy. He knew how to work it.
(23:06): On the next episode of “The Madigan Rule,” the final episode, the ongoing federal investigation into Michael J. Madigan and ComEd. “The Madigan Rule” is produced by me, Justin Kaufmann, in association with the BGA. The Executive Producer, David Greising. Special thanks to Steve Edwards for story consulting and to Alex Sugihara for the music. Shout out to the Tribune’s years-long series, “The Madigan Rules,” which was led by the BGA’s David Kidwell and John Chase beginning in 2010. To find out more about the BGA’s investigative reporting and watchdog efforts go to www.bettergov.org.