‘Because Mike Madigan came to us’: McClain invoked ex-speaker in defense of lobbying contracts

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Ex-lobbyist Mike McClain is pictured in his driver's license photo, which was submitted as evidence in his federal court trial in a case where he and three others allegedly bribed former House Speaker Michael Madigan (right) with jobs and contracts for the speaker’s political allies in exchange for legislation favorable to electric utility Commonwealth Edison. (Madigan photo and illustration by Jerry Nowicki; McClain photo obtained from trial exhibit)

CHICAGO – Former Commonwealth Edison executive Fidel Marquez had been a government informant for less than a month when he had a meeting with longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in mid-February 2019.

The meeting was routine; Marquez, another executive and ComEd’s relatively new CEO met with Madigan at the beginning of the General Assembly’s new session in Springfield, as was the utility’s custom.

But the speaker noticed something off about Marquez, according to Madigan’s close friend Mike McClain, a longtime contract lobbyist for ComEd.

“Fidel didn’t say nothing,” McClain related to fellow ComEd lobbyist John Hooker. “He sat there like a bump on a log.”

The brief observation was included in a wiretapped phone call between the two men shortly after the meeting that was played for a federal jury in Chicago on Monday. McClain and Hooker are joined as defendants by fellow ex-ComEd lobbyist Jay Doherty and the utility’s former CEO Anne Pramaggiore. All four are accused of bribing Madigan with jobs and contracts for his allies in exchange for favorable legislation for the utility.

Later in the call, the pair discussed advice they’d each recently given to Marquez about how he should handle telling new ComEd CEO Joe Dominguez about lobbying subcontractors connected to Madigan. The subcontractors had allegedly done little to no work in exchange for monthly stipends between $4,000 and $5,000 through Doherty’s longstanding lobbying contract.

“I just told him to be transparent with Joe,” McClain said of the counsel he’d given Marquez over lunch at a Springfield restaurant the week before.

That lunch, just like a similar one Marquez had with Hooker previously, had been secretly videotaped by Marquez at the feds’ direction.

McClain said he told Marquez to appeal to Dominguez by comparing the subcontractor situation with a request Dominguez had recently honored from a labor leader who’d asked him to hire an ally as a contract lobbyist.

“We had to hire these guys because Mike Madigan came to us,” McClain told Hooker. “It’s just that simple…So if you want to make it a federal court suit, okay, but that’s how simple it is.”

Jurors heard that quip from McClain just a few minutes before hearing another, in which he told Hooker and Pramaggiore that he was worried Dominguez – a former federal prosecutor from New Jersey – would run ComEd differently than Pramaggiore, who’d been promoted from the CEO role the summer before.

“But Joe, I don’t think he really respects Madigan,” he said on the wiretapped call. “So I wouldn’t trust Joe. I would trust Joe to think that this is a quid pro quo and that he’s wired.”

In early 2019, discussions were just beginning on what would eventually become another major energy-related bill – although that didn’t end up taking shape until 2021, due in part to the investigation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

McClain, who had been officially retired from lobbying for more than two years at that point, was worried that there was still no successor for his unique role as a go-between for Madigan and ComEd. He’d been trying to mentor two ex-Madigan staffers, but he told Pramaggiore and Hooker during the call that neither were ready for the job.

He was also worried that Marquez was not as reliable and quick to respond to Madigan-initiated requests as Hooker was when he held that job before his retirement in 2012, a worry that was exacerbated by Pramaggiore’s promotion to CEO of Exelon Utilities, leaving Dominguez as her replacement.

“This is real serious. There’s no one right now that I can actually tell our friend, ‘This is the lead, and when you call, that guy will snap to or that gal will snap to,’” McClain told Pramaggiore and Hooker, using his common euphemism of “friend” to refer to Madigan. “Because I was the lead, but every time I called up John or you, you guys did things. I mean…there’s no one in the company that has that kind of smack right now.”

Later, the conversation returned to Dominguez, and McClain offered to have a “daddy talk with this guy.”

“My instinct is that I come up to Chicago and I sit down with Dominguez and say, ‘Now look-it asshole, if you want to pass this bill, this is what it requires,’” McClain said. “‘If you wanna fire me today that’s fine but this is like serious business, it’s millions of dollars. So either you wanna look like you’re the leader, and be the leader, but that means you’ve gotta authorize your people to do things.”

The next month, McClain, Hooker and Marquez sat down with Dominguez in a meeting Marquez recorded. In the recording previously played for the jury, Dominguez said he was fine with the subcontractor arrangement.

Earlier on Monday, Marquez finished 21 hours on the witness stand with the last of the defense’s cross-examination. After playing an hour of recordings, prosecutors called Doherty’s longtime administrative assistant to the witness stand to question her about payouts to the subcontractors.

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