By Greg Bishop
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he wants to “see the investigation play out” after news that a federal investigation into the Chicago City Council included a secretly recorded conversation between House Speaker Michael Madigan and a developer who wanted to build a hotel in Chinatown.
Chicago Ald. Danny Solis, who spent two years cooperating with investigators arranged the meeting between Madigan and the developer at Madigan’s law office 2014. Madigan was recorded pitching his legal services and seeking a longterm relationship with the developer, according to a report from the Chicago Sun-Times. Madigan denied wrongdoing through his attorney.
Pritzker said Tuesday that it’s unethical for a lawmaker to vote on a measure that would benefit a private business or outside profession, but didn’t directly address the criticism that continues to surround Madigan and his property tax appeals business.
Madigan’s attorney said the speaker wasn’t concerned about the recording.
“The Speaker recalls attending several meetings with Alderman Solis over the past five years, including meetings with individuals in need of legal representation. If indeed, some of his conversations were being recorded, the Speaker did not know that, but he has no concern if they were,” Madigan’s attorney Heather Weir Vaught said in a statement. “The Speaker has no recollection of ever suggesting that he would take official action for a private law firm client or potential client. To our knowledge, neither the Speaker nor his law firm is under investigation.”
The revelations came after longtime Chicago Alderman Ed Burke was indicted for allegedly trying to shake down a restaurant owner to get businesses for his property tax appeals law firm.
Pritzker wouldn’t directly comment on the story about Madigan. He said with an ongoing FBI investigation, it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to comment.
“I think it’s very important for people to be held accountable if they’ve done something wrong,” Pritzker said. “So we need to see the investigation play out. I think people who are indicted or found to have acted inappropriately imperial or against the law to be held fully accountable for that.”
Pritzker said he’s working to ensure his administration addresses any perceived conflicts of interest. He said more can be done throughout state government.
“We should continue to look at that,” Pritzker said. “We should continue to surface ideas about how to make sure that people are living up to their obligations in public service and then that people who do anything wrong are held accountable for that.”
Asked about lawmakers with other professions, Pritzker said it’s common in a civilian legislature for elected officials to have other jobs.
“And when they do that, there is the potential for conflicts of interest and that is where we need to make sure that people are either abstaining from the activity on the outside that would interfere with their ability to do their job that they were elected to do and do it ethically or abstaining from being involved in it in any way in government,” the governor said. “It’s one or the other. In my view, it’s improper.”
The Illinois Republican Party said that Madigan shouldn’t be allowed to serve as both the House Speaker and a property tax appeals attorney.
“Like Ed Burke, developers and wealthy real estate holders don’t consider Speaker Madigan for legal work just because he’s a competent lawyer,” Illinois Republican Party spokesman Aaron DeGroot said in a statement. “Madigan acquires legal clients because he is one of the most powerful political leaders and lawmakers in the State of Illinois. That’s wrong. The fact remains that it is an incredible conflict of interest for Madigan to simultaneously serve as Speaker of the Illinois House and as a property tax appeals attorney. The people of Illinois will not see real reform of our broken and punitive property tax system until lawmakers ban that practice.”
Madigan also serves as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, a position that gives him control over party spending.
Pritzker was picked up on a federal wiretap talking with impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich back in 2008. In one conversation, Priztker asked Blagojevich to be appointed state treasurer. Pritzker was never charged with a crime.