CHICAGO – Illinois Policy Institute's Austin Berg sent out an email to subscribers Tuesday, explaining the group's take on the news that a meeting including Speaker Mike Madigan was recorded by then-Chicago Alderman Danny Solis. Solis was reportedly cooperating with an FBI investigation.
The federal investigation that led to Chicago Ald. Ed Burke’s indictment also extended to the most powerful political player in the state, a new report reveals.
The FBI secretly recorded a business meeting between Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and a hotel developer who had been directed to Madigan’s law firm by Ald. Danny Solis, according to an affidavit obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. Solis announced he will not seek re-election earlier this month following news that he had secretly recorded dozens of conversations with Ald. Ed Burke.
An FBI agent writes a sentence in the report that has exploded statewide, Berg writes:
An FBI agent explained the reasoning behind the meeting in the affidavit: “I understand Solis to mean that by hiring Madigan’s private firm, [the developer] would ensure that Solis and Madigan would take official action benefitting [the developer] in their capacity as public officials.”
In May 2014 the developer sought a zoning change to build a hotel in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, within Solis’ ward. Solis said he would support the project on two conditions, according to the affidavit: First, the developer would not build a second hotel on a nearby piece of land. And second, the developer would acquire letters of support from key community groups.
After the developer presented letters of support to Solis, the alderman asked the developer and an associate to attend a meeting with Madigan’s LaSalle street law firm, according to the affidavit.
And here's why all this is so important, Berg writes:
Madigan & Getzendanner is the biggest player in the profitable game of commercial property tax appeals in Cook County. From 2011 to 2016, the firm appealed property taxes for more than 4,200 parcels totaling more than $8.6 billion in assessed value. No other firm handled more value in commercial and industrial properties over that time.
In the meeting, Madigan’s partner laid out the firm’s fee: 12.5 percent of all tax savings or a fixed amount of $3,000 to $3,500 annually. “We’re not interested in a quick killing here,” Madigan said. “We’re interested in a long-term relationship.”
Madigan said as recorded, he wanted a "long-term relationship" with the hotel building prospect.
An associate of the developer called Solis Aug. 21, 2014, to confirm the developer would hire Madigan’s law firm. Solis wrote a letter of support for the hotel five days later.
Despite these conversations, the hotel did not ultimately sign any agreement with Madigan’s firm by the time the FBI agent filed the affidavit in 2016. And while the zoning change was approved the hotel was never built.
The speaker is not facing criminal charges and denies any wrongdoing.
Indeed, the speaker told the media Tuesday through his spokesman that he was not aware of being included in an FBI investigation. He had not been contacted by them.
Politics, power and policy
Burke was charged Jan. 3 with one count of attempted extortion for allegedly trying to use his elected position to get property tax legal work out of a Burger King franchise, after its owners sought Burke’s help for a restaurant remodeling project in 2017. Like Madigan, Burke also runs a property tax appeals business, Klafter & Burke.
This confluence of political power and policy choices is not limited to Chicago City Council, where aldermen such as Burke maintain extraordinary power over administrative matters in their respective wards.
At the state level, Madigan’s law practice is just one element of the speaker’s undue influence. He is the longest-serving state Democratic Party chairman in Illinois history, and the only state legislative leader in the nation to also serve as a party chairman.
This consolidated political power flows into his role as the most powerful House speaker in the nation.
On Jan. 28, the House Rules Committee approved the House rules, which govern legislative procedures in Madigan’s chamber. These rules give Madigan more procedural power than any other House speaker in the nation.
For example, Madigan has the power to kill bills, even those that have popular support and deserve floor debate, by virtue of his power to handpick the majority of the Rules Committee members. This committee determines whether a bill will be sent to a substantive committee for deliberation or simply sit in the Rules Committee until it dies. According to a 2017 Illinois Policy Institute analysis, Illinois is one of only 9 states that require a bill to go to a rules committee before being assigned elsewhere. The requirements necessary to discharge a bill from the House Rules Committee – if it chooses not to move a bill on its own – are effectively impossible to meet.
Later today, the full House is scheduled to vote on these rules.
Tuesday, Speaker Madigan did not appear before the Illinois House on what was celebrated as a new day in the Illinois Senate. Governor Pritzker visited the Illinois Senate. Nothing like that took place in the Illinois House Tuesday.
However, the Democrat majority confirmed the rules the Speaker sought. The Speaker also diminished the number of committees within the House.
And, Berg reminded his readers of the hour long video Illinois Policy released in 2016: Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics.
It might be a good time to watch it to understand how all of this could be working: