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State

Feds investigate ComEd lobbyists

A burgeoning federal investigation into ComEd’s lobbying activities centers on whether the utility giant hired politically connected lobbyists to curry favor with lawmakers in exchange for favorable action at the Illinois Capitol, a source familiar with the probe told the Tribune on Friday.

As part of the investigation, authorities are scrutinizing certain ComEd executives and have zeroed in on payments through the company’s vast network of consultants to some individuals to seemingly circumvent lobbying disclosure rules, the source said. Some of the people who wound up being paid seemed to have done little actual work, the source added.

Among the payments, authorities suspect, were thousands of dollars in checks written to Kevin Quinn, an ousted political operative of House Speaker Michael Madigan, according to the source. The Tribune first reported the checks were under scrutiny in July.

In addition, two sources told the Tribune on Friday that longtime former ComEd lobbyists John Hooker and Fidel Marquez are under federal scrutiny.

Hooker, who once headed ComEd’s lobbying division, reported to the state on Friday he had terminated his relationship with a firm whose key lobbyist is Michael Kasper, the longtime lawyer for Madigan’s Illinois Democratic Party and a former legal counsel for the speaker’s office. Hooker worked on ComEd issues for Kasper’s firm, state records showed.

ComEd and parent company Exelon have acknowledged receiving two federal subpoenas. On Friday, a spokeswoman issued a statement saying the companies are “cooperating fully with the investigation, and we are not commenting on the government’s investigatory activities.”

The outlines of what federal authorities are looking at emerged 3 days after Exelon Utilities CEO Anne Pramaggiore abruptly retired. A source told the Tribune that Pramaggiore, a former ComEd leader who lobbied in Springfield for years, is one focus of the ongoing investigation.

One of the subpoenas asked for records of communications with state Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat whose legislative territory overlaps with the speaker’s House district.

Sandoval’s Capitol office was raided last month. The lengthy list of things authorities searched for included “items related to ComEd, Exelon, any employee, officer or representative of any of those businesses, Exelon Official A, Exelon Official B, Exelon Official C, Exelon Official D, and/or any issue supported by any of those businesses or individuals, including, but not limited to, rate increases.”

Quinn checks

As federal authorities try to determine whether payments made by ComEd to lobbyists were going to politically connected people, one area they’re looking at is money paid to Kevin Quinn, the brother of Marty Quinn, Madigan’s handpicked 13th Ward alderman.

The payments included a $1,000 check from the account of Michael McClain, a retired top ComEd lobbyist for decades who is Madigan’s close confidant. McClain’s home was raided by the FBI in May.

Quinn also got checks from the law firm of former Rep. John Bradley, a ComEd lobbyist; a firm that lobbies for ComEd and employs lobbyist Will Cousineau, a former Madigan political director; an account linked to Tom Cullen, a former ComEd lobbyist and Madigan political director; and ComEd City Hall lobbyist Michael Alvarez.

In addition, Quinn got a $1,000 check from a businessman who has worked with Madigan’s property tax appeals law firm. The memo line of the check says “McClain.”

McClain was one Madigan’s closest confidantes. He long played an outsize role as a ComEd contract lobbyist and key political strategist whose ties to the speaker date back to the 1970s when they served together in the House. He retired in 2016 following passage of the legislation to save nuclear plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities.

In mid-May, the FBI raided McClain’s house in Quincy. They came at about the same time federal agents searched the Southwest Side home of former 23rd Ward Ald. Mike Zalewski. In the Zalewski raid, authorities sought records of interactions among Madigan, McClain and Zalewski related to attempts to get ComEd lobbying work for the former City Council member when he stepped down in 2018, according to a law enforcement source.

ComEd fixture

When Pramaggiore ascended to CEO of ComEd in 2009, the company also elevated Hooker, the chief lobbyist, to executive vice president for legislative and external affairs.

The company enjoyed great success in Springfield over the last decade as an army of lobbyists convinced lawmakers to pass bills to install a smart grid system and save nuclear plants.

Hooker was promoted despite surfacing a decade earlier in a legislative scholarship scandal that highlighted the coziness between lawmakers and lobbyists at the Capitol.

Two of Hooker’s dependents – a daughter from his first marriage and a stepson from another marriage – managed to secure $21,000 worth of tuition waivers from lawmakers under the since-ended legislative scholarship program, which was long beset by charges of nepotism, favoritism and political abuse.

Back in 1999, the Tribune reported that one of those waivers came from then-Rep. Shirley Jones, a Chicago Democrat who chaired the House Public Utility Committee. As ComEd’s top lobbyist, Hooker steered legislation affecting the utility company through Jones’ committee. And ComEd? It gave Jones political donations.

At the time, Madigan said Jones made a mistake in giving the scholarship to Hooker’s stepson, but the speaker said everyone is entitled to a mistake and let her remain committee chair – a position that came with a $7,735 annual stipend.

“Had she asked my advice before she did it,” Madigan said at the time, “I would have told her, ‘You shouldn’t do something like that.’ But she didn’t ask my advice.”

Following the Tribune disclosure, Hooker apologized to co-workers for breaking the utility’s ethics policy that bars workers from actions that would “create an appearance of impropriety,” but a company spokesman said at the time that Hooker’s “inadvertent lapse” didn’t require discipline.

When she left the House, Jones served 10 years as a ComEd lobbyist.

Hooker also has supported attempts to protect Madigan’s authority to draw legislative district boundary maps that are critical in determining who wins elections and which party holds the majority in the House and Senate.

In 2016, Hooker chaired a group that successfully sued to keep off the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would have removed the mapmaking process for House and Senate districts from power brokers like the speaker, other legislative leaders and the governor, and give it to an 11-member board.

The lawyer in the suit was Kasper, Madigan’s attorney for the state Democratic party. Plaintiffs also included former ComEd Chairman Frank Clark, who recently declined to comment about the ComEd investigation.

At the time, Hooker, who is African American, said the ballot question “had unintended consequences for black and brown minority districts.”

In July 2015, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel named Hooker board chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority. Hooker resigned July 17, noting his “term is up, and my time is up. This was my decision alone.”

That decision also came shortly after the mid-May FBI raids on McClain, Zalewski and Kevin Quinn.

Kasper’s lobbying firm notified the state of Hooker’s termination on Thursday, the same day the Tribune visited his home. A reporter went to Hooker’s luxury condo tower overlooking Grant Park and asked the security desk officer to call him. Hooker picked up, but the officer relayed that Hooker didn’t wish to comment and “doesn’t talk to reporters.”

Kasper could not be reached for comment Friday.

Also part of ComEd’s lobbying shake-up was the departure of Marquez, a senior vice president and a top lobbyist in Springfield. ComEd officially announced it on Sept. 23, saying only that Marquez was “retiring after 39 years of service.”

Marquez, who has homes in Chicago and Arizona, has not responded to repeated attempts by the Tribune to reach him the past several months.

When a Tribune reporter went to his condo building in the South Loop in August, a manager at the security desk said he hadn’t seen Marquez in weeks. A reporter visited Marquez’s lobbying office in the financial district that same day, but was told by an employee that Marquez was “on leave.”

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rlong@chicagotribune.com

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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©2019 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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