Illinois state Rep. Bob Rita (D) finished testifying Tuesday in the trial of former Exelon and Commonwealth Edison executives and their lobbyists over alleged bribes paid to deposed house speaker Michael Madigan (D).
According to Rita, Madigan had “total control” over both the House and the Democratic Party of Illinois, and Madigan ruled by “fear and intimidation.” Rita said he experienced it personally.
Rita took the stand during the second week of the trial of Anne Pramaggiore, John Hooker, Jay Doherty, and Michael McClain in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Pramaggiore served as ComEd’s chief executive officer from 2012 until 2018 and then worked as a senior executive of Exelon, ComEd’s parent, from 2018 until October 2019. Doherty, McClain, and Hooker—also a former ComEd employee—served as outside lobbyists for the company.
Rita is the first sitting member of the state’s assembly to testify in the case. The prosecution questioned Rita about Madigan’s power in the state and Rita’s role in sponsoring the Future Energy Jobs Act—a bill that ComEd executives have said was critical to the utility’s financial viability.
To demonstrate why ComEd would bother to bribe Madigan, the government needs to show that its executives knew or believed that it needed Madigan’s support to accomplish its regulatory goals.
According to prosecutors, the alleged bribes—paid indirectly to Madigan in the form of lucrative ComEd job positions and subcontracts given to his associates for little or no work—were meant to influence the trajectory of the state’s utility legislation.
Rita said that he agreed to sponsor the bill that would become FEJA at the request of former state Rep. Marlow H. Colvin (D), who was at the time a ComEd lobbyist. Rita said he knew nothing about the particular bill but was interested in sponsoring the bill because it was “major legislation” that would impact everyone in the state.
He said he wasn’t as involved as he would have liked in the drafting, even though he became the bill’s primary sponsor in the house.
Although Madigan’s staff met frequently with stakeholders in drafting the bill, Rita said he wasn’t generally invited to the meetings. The prosecution appeared to be trying to show that Rita was a straw man of sorts.
Madigan didn’t vote for or against FEJA. He was marked as “not voting.”
Madigan isn’t a defendant in this trial, but faces racketeering, bribery, and Travel Act charges in a separate indictment, also naming McClain.
Rita also testified about the close relationship between McClain and Madigan. According to Rita, when Madigan had previously asked him to sponsor legislation that he couldn’t sponsor due to a conflict, he was told that McClain would “guide” him, which Rita said he did.
Much of the government’s theory turns on McClain acting as a proxy for Madigan and speaking on his behalf.
According to Rita, Madigan valued loyalty—to him personally, to the Democratic caucus, and the party—above all else. His power stemmed from his ability to control committee appointments, funding for Democratic candidates, and which bills might be considered for a vote, Rita said.
At the outset of his testimony, Rita acknowledged that he asked for and received a nontarget letter from prosecutors, meaning he received written assurance that he wasn’t someone the government was looking to indict in its yearslong probe. Rita has served in the Illinois General Assembly since 2003 and is an assistant majority leader.
Rita appeared somewhat recalcitrant when fielding questions by defense counsel on cross examination, telling one of the lawyers to slow down and frequently asking for clarification before responding.
When asked about Madigan’s use of “fear and intimidation,” Rita said the fear he felt was about political consequences, like losing a committee assignment or campaign support.
Rita had testified on direct about Madigan pulling support for former Rep. Kenneth Dunkin. According to Rita, the state Democratic party supported a Democratic opponent to run against Dunkin in the primary, after Dunkin sided with Republicans on certain legislation.
“And that’s politics, isn’t it?” McClain’s lawyer, Patrick Cotter, asked, countering the suggestion that Madigan punished his colleagues for improper reasons.
“Yes,” Rita said.
The government has made much of McClain’s use of the phrase “our friend” to refer to Madigan in emails and in discussions in public spaces. Defense attorneys also took a hit at that, asking Rita whether he and McClain were talking about committing crimes in correspondence that referred to Madigan as “our friend.”
“No,” Rita said.
Rita also acknowledged that Madigan was known as someone who would help people find jobs on occasion, and that Rita himself had asked Madigan for his help finding a job for a friend of a friend at least once.
This affects the government’s argument that Madigan’s request to have ComEd find work for people was in exchange for some official action—that is, whether there was corrupt intent.
McClain is represented by Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale PC. Pramaggiore is represented by Sidley Austin LLP. Hooker is represented by Monico & Spevack. Doherty is represented by Gabrielle Rose Sansonetti.
The case is United States v. McClain, N.D. Ill., No. 1:20-cr-00812, 3/21/23
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