Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan doesn't know anything about his lobbyist buddy's appalling 2012 email advocating on behalf of a politically connected worker who kept his mouth shut about a rape and ghost payroll practices.
And the head of the Democratic Party of Illinois made it clear he doesn't want a legislative inquiry into the matter. In fact, he squashed House Minority Leader Jim Durkin's request for the State Government Administration Committee to be immediately convened to investigate the allegations and for full subpoena authority to require the testimony of retired lobbyist Michael McClain and others.
Madigan said the issue was too sensitive for the General Assembly and that only the "appropriate" authorities should investigate.
“He has kept his mouth shut on Jones’ ghost workers, the rape in Champaign and other items. He is loyal to the administration,” McClain wrote in the 2012 email to then-Gov. Pat Quinn's aides. McClain wrote the email seeking leniency for a longtime government worker, Forrest Ashby, who was facing a disciplinary hearing. McClain didn't want that hearing to get out of control.
It was such a brash and stomach-turning email. The kind that begs the question: What else are politicians and lobbyists doing and hiding in Springfield?
Further, it illustrates just how out of touch the state's politicians and power brokers are with the rest of Illinois.
The Chicago Tribune reported that investigators were looking into whether the email referred to an inmate who got out of prison early and then sexually abused a young girl. The report cited unnamed sources.
If that's the case, then a legislative inquiry is needed.
“The lobbyist was practicing under the Lobbyist Registration Act statute at the time of the alleged activity and the state employees were senior-level officials in a previous administration,” Durkin said. “The Illinois House of Representatives has an inherent responsibility to perform an independent inquiry into a matter of this nature.”
Durkin is right about that.
But don't expect Madigan to clean up the moral and political mess in Springfield. He's shown time and again, through the #MeToo scandal and corruption probes, that he prefers the status quo.
It's worth remembering that McClain is more than just an acquaintance of Madigan. Far from it. McClain is the former state lawmaker who went on to become one of the state's most powerful lobbyists, in no small part because of his extremely close relationship with the House Speaker.
McClain is the one who referred to Madigan as "Himself" when rounding up cash for Kevin Quinn, the Madigan political operative who was fired amid accusations that he sexually harassed a campaign worker. Madigan said he also didn't know anything about the harassment or the fundraising for the out-of-work Kevin Quinn.
Madigan also didn't know anything about his longtime chief of staff, Tim Mapes, being the chief harasser and intimidator under the dome.
That excuse strained the limits of believability, even in the modern political era, the first time it was employed. When Madigan trotted out the "I-wasn't-aware" line again with the McClain email, even some Democrats questioned it.
After all, McClain kept others informed about his efforts to intervene on Ashby's behalf. This week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker fired Illinois Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan for failing to take action regarding the email at the time it was sent. The governor's office said that Sullivan, as a state senator in 2012, knew about the email but did nothing about it. Sullivan said he never read the entire email while running for re-election and dealing with health issues.
Democrats may be hesitant to challenge Madigan, but failing to do so will prove far more costly in the end.