It’s been one week since the ground shook across the State of Illinois when the United States Attorney for the Northern District told us what we had long guessed but didn’t know with certainty: Speaker Michael Madigan is “Public Official A” in a massive federal investigation looking into multiple allegations of bribery and fraud.
More than a decade ago, when we learned that Rod Blagojevich was “Public Official A,” the Chicago press corps was relentless. Former Gov. Blagojevich could barely get through a press conference without being asked about the federal investigation. When investigative reporters broke new details, reporters on the governor’s daily beat hammered him with questions. We recall with fondness a pack of reporters even once chasing the governor down the street, screaming questions as the governor ran away.
But for some reason, a decade later, Mike Madigan and JB Pritzker get a different standard. We understand that Mr. Madigan does not hold press conferences. But Mr. Pritzker does – almost daily.
Mr. Pritzker is the chief executive of our state. He is a political ally of Mike Madigan who has invested millions of dollars in Madigan-controlled campaign funds. He is the highest-ranking Democrat in a party that Madigan chairs. He has appointed people to his administration at Madigan’s request and with ongoing close ties and loyalty to Madigan. He negotiates with Madigan for the passage of legislation and for how to spend taxpayer funds. He has called on others to resign at the same stage of an investigation that Madigan now faces. He has a constitutional duty to protect the people of Illinois from corruption.
This week, we learned more details about the federal investigation into “Public Official A.” We learned more about subpoenas issued to companies beyond ComEd. We learned more about a Pritzker appointee close to Madigan and a target of the federal investigation who helped ComEd cover up the death and injury of cable line workers. We also learned more about a separate federal investigation into property tax fraud and how that investigation is looking at more Pritzker-connected properties than previously known.
Investigative reporters at the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, WBEZ and Crain’s are doing their jobs. But when their stories hit the wire and the Governor held his daily press briefings, Chicago area reporters asked Pritzker a total of zero questions. They let Pritzker change the subject to anything but Madigan and his own property taxes. They looked like a different press corps than the one we remembered.
Take this example. The Governor has said that Madigan should resign if the allegations against him are true. No one in Chicago asked him why that standard is different from the one he applied to Marty Sandoval. No one asked him to react to a Democratic state senator who called for the resignation immediately. No one asked him what allegations he thinks aren’t true. No one asked him when they would be “true” – after the next big news story, after another Madigan ally gets indicted, only when Madigan gets indicted or only when Madigan gets convicted.
Another example. Pritzker visited Central Illinois this week where he did face questions on Madigan. In Peoria, he bungled a question on whether he still considers Madigan a political ally. Pritzker came back to Chicago and received zero follow-ups all week. Reporters let him off the hook.
We’ve heard the conventional wisdom in Illinois for a long time. Mike Madigan is Teflon. The feds will never get him. Other people might plead guilty but they don’t have evidence on him. Why ask questions about this if it costs us our access?
It’s time to wake up and smell the federal investigation. Madigan is now Public Official A. People are talking. The net is widening. The people of Illinois need a press corps that will hold their leaders accountable.
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