Commonwealth Edison’s lobbying team got the go-ahead in 2018 to kill the Illinois attorney general’s proposal to give low-income consumers a break on their electric bills with the blessing of her father, Speaker of the Illinois House Michael Madigan.
That was the testimony Monday from Fidel Marquez, who at the time was the utility company’s vice president of government affairs and oversaw its lobbying efforts. The government’s star witness took the stand Monday in the trial of the “ComEd Four,” who are fighting charges that they illegally conspired to corruptly influence Madigan.
Marquez took the stand and uncoded an email about the legislation for a federal jury tasked with deciding the fate of four of Marquez’s former colleagues.
ComEd wanted to kill the rate-reduction plan, but was “concerned” because it was a signature effort of the speaker’s daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Marquez said.
That concern was alleviated with an email from Michael Madigan’s longtime trusted ally and paid ComEd consultant Michael McClain.
“A friend of ours alerted me and thereby us to this initiative and the concept of an amendment. As we all know that was code for we can go ahead and kill it,” McClain’s email read.
At the prosecutor's urging, Marquez interpreted the email for jurors.
“Our friend” was how McClain commonly referred to Madigan.
The email, Marquez said, meant that Madigan had given the green light to defeat the bill sponsored by his daughter.
By then, Madigan was cozy with ComEd’s leadership. Marquez said ComEd’s CEO Anne Pramaggiore had a “close if not somewhat personal” relationship with the speaker, such that she knew when he “had a new grandbaby, things of that nature.”
That warmth was a grand departure from ComEd’s tenuous reputation with Madigan years earlier, when the speaker “grew to mistrust” the company due to negotiations involving merger legislation that ultimately failed.
By 2018, though, ComEd was well into an alleged bribery scheme fixated on making and keeping Madigan happy.
While ComEd in 2020 paid $200 million and admitted to the scheme, Pramaggiore, McClain and two other ComEd higher-ups – along with former ComEd vice president and lobbyist John Hooker and former ComEd contract lobbyist and City Club of Chicago President Jay Doherty, collectively known as the “ComEd Four” – are fighting charges that they illegally conspired to corruptly influence Madigan.
Marquez pleaded guilty, and hopes to avoid prison in exchange for his cooperation since the FBI knocked on his door in 2019 with evidence of his involvement in the plot.
He was in a key position to serve as a mole for the FBI, and prosecutors on Monday relied on him to detail the team’s motivations and inner-workings.
Marquez says McClain was known as a “double agent” because while the lobbyist was loyal to ComEd, it was known within ComEd circles that McClain was even more loyal to Madigan.
Marquez said that’s why when he got a request from McClain, he knew he had to act on it with urgency. Marquez says he knew that directions from McClain were really coming from higher up.
Marquez says early into getting his top government affairs job with ComEd, he was given a to-do list.
On it was hiring a relative of then-state Rep. Monique Davis.
Marquez went on to detail other such requests, like fixing lobbying contracts for Madigan allies, including for those who Marquez said didn’t have the skills for those jobs.
Most of the subcontractors didn’t do any work despite getting paid what amounts to a middle class salary from ComEd.
Marquez said even as the executive at ComEd in charge of managing lobbying contracts, he initially did not know the subcontractors were on the company’s payroll, given that they had no work assignments and they were paid through other contracts.
Even today, Marquez said, he would not be able to point at Madigan precinct captain Ray Nice if he was in the courtroom, despite Nice getting paid $60,000 annually for at least six years.
“He was hired and being paid as a request from Michael Madigan,” Marquez said.
Another lobbyist, former state Rep. Eddie Acevado, was later hired, despite Marquez’s reservations that Acevado was emotional, high maintenance, not smart and drank so excessively he got “sloppy.”
Still, Marquez hired Acevedo because it was seen as important to Madigan to keep Latino politicians happy.
Marquez said he carried out various contracts with the consent of Pramaggiore, who explicitly signed off on some of the contracts, per emails shown in court.
“She wanted to make sure that we did everything possible to make sure that Michael Madigan had a favorable disposition towards the company,” Marquez said.
Pramaggiore considered Madigan a linchpin in killing or advancing legislation important to ComEd, Marquez said.
Several laws important to ComEd did pass.
As played for the jury on a wiretapped phone call, Pramaggiore credited Madigan and McClain for serving as her “spirit guides” throughout, help that allowed her to advance to CEO of ComEd’s then parent company, Exelon.
Lawyers for the defense made various objections, most of which were overruled.
But when it’s their turn to cross examine, defense attorneys will likely try to poke holes in Marquez’s telling.
Their defense has been to argue that working legislation and making happy a powerful politician is done in the regular course of lobbying.
Marquez is expected back on the stand Tuesday, the ninth day of the trial, which could go on for eight weeks.
Madigan and McClain are separately fighting racketeering charges. Madigan has insisted he did nothing wrong, and that it’s an elected official’s duty to help assist and find work for constituents.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky