Home Local Madigan knew about secret payments to ousted political operative, unsealed court filing alleges

Madigan knew about secret payments to ousted political operative, unsealed court filing alleges

by staff

House Speaker Michael Madigan knew in advance that several lobbyists would send secret, back-channel payments to a top lieutenant he’d ousted in a 2018 sexual harassment scandal, newly unsealed court records disclosed.

The revelation undermines the storyline the now-indicted ex-speaker put out when the Tribune first revealed his longtime confidant Michael McClain had lined up friendly utility lobbyists to pay Kevin Quinn thousands of dollars despite his abrupt departure.

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“So, speaker, I put four or five people together that are willing to contribute to help a monthly thing, for the next six months, like I mentioned to you,” McClain told Madigan in an Aug. 29, 2018, telephone call that was secretly recorded by the FBI, according to a search warrant affidavit unsealed in U.S. District Court in Springfield on Friday.

The 136-page affidavit was filed in May 2019 in support of a search warrant for McClain’s iPhone and other items. That’s the same month that the FBI executed a series of raids on the homes of McClain and several others tied to a sprawling probe involved alleged bribes paid by ComEd in exchange for Madigan’s influence on legislation in Springfield.

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Madigan, the Chicago Democrat dethroned last year after a nationwide record 36 years as speaker, and McClain, a former House lawmaker who became a contract lobbyist for ComEd and other clients, were both indicted in March on racketeering and bribery-related charges.

McClain faces a separate trial in September in the ComEd bribes-for-favors case along with the utility company’s former CEO and two other lobbyists.

None of the pending charges highlight the payments or Quinn, the brother of Madigan’s handpicked 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn. Neither Quinn has been charged with wrongdoing.

Lawyers for Madigan did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Monday.

The affidavit noted Madigan and McClain were viewed at the time as “subjects” of a far-reaching investigation into public corruption. It also signaled that McClain performed many assignments for the speaker and acted as a virtual surrogate even after the lobbyist retired in 2016.

But the disclosure that Madigan had talked on the phone to McClain in August 2018 about plans to help out Quinn despite his ouster in the sexual harassment scandal raised doubts about the speaker’s sincerity in addressing #MeToo issues.

When the Tribune first disclosed the payments three years ago, a Madigan spokeswoman issued a statement: “If a group of people were attempting to help Kevin Quinn, the speaker was not a part of it.”

Quinn was forced out of the speaker’s political and governmental organization over alleged sexual harassment of Democratic campaign worker Alaina Hampton.

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Hampton later reached a settlement with Madigan-related campaign funds after she filed a federal suit contending she was blackballed from the speaker’s political organization because she reported Kevin Quinn’s actions.

In a statement Monday, Hampton said that after she spoke out about sexual harassment she was “gaslit, publicly disparaged and blocked from employment.”

“At the time the news broke that Quinn was being financially taken care of by lobbyists aligned with Speaker Madigan, the Speaker’s spokesman publicly denied any involvement,” Hampton said. “Today, the truth has come out, as we always knew it one day would.”

In the recorded Madigan-McClain conversation from August 2018, the speaker acknowledged the payment plans to Quinn, responding “yeah, yeah.” But Madigan then informed McClain that “he wanted to be able to appear to have no knowledge of the payments,” according to the affidavit unsealed in Springfield last week.

“Yeah,” Madigan said, turning down McClain’s offer to allow the speaker to inform others of the plan, “I think I ought to stay out of it.”

McClain said, “OK.” Madigan said, “That’s what I think.”

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McClain replied: “I’ll take care of it.”

At one point, McClain is quoted as confiding to an unidentified person that Madigan planned to get sworn in as speaker and then “intended to help” Quinn.

The Tribune first reported in 2019 that as much as $10,000 in payments had been sent to Kevin Quinn from McClain and other current and former utility lobbyists. The tally rose to at least $31,000 as the Tribune gained access to more bank records.

The new federal filing showed the plan McClain outlined called for lobbyists to each give $1,000 to $2,000 a month for six months.

The people who sent Quinn checks include some of the most-clouted Democratic lobbyists in Springfield. Like McClain, they had ties to Madigan, ComEd or both.

They included Will Cousineau, who bills himself as the speaker’s longest-serving political director; former Marion Rep. John Bradley, once a member of Madigan’s leadership team; Tom Cullen, a former House staffer and ComEd lobbyist who later worked for Ameren; and Michael Alvarez, a former Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner lobbied the city of Chicago for ComEd.

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Cousineau’s firm, Washington-based Cornerstone Government Affairs, and Bradley no longer are part of ComEd’s lineup of lobbyists.

Emails the Tribune also obtained in 2019 showed that McClain wrote to the lobbyists that the contracts to Quinn would last for “six months, maximum.” At least four of the checks were signed by McClain’s wife from the couple’s joint account.

McClain also thanked the lobbyists for “helping out Kevin Quinn.”

A couple of weeks later, Madigan wrote an op-ed in the Tribune about the sexual harassment culture at the Capitol. The speaker promised he had “made it a personal mission to take this issue head-on and correct past mistakes.”

“I wish I would have done so sooner,” Madigan wrote in the piece published Sept. 20, 2018.

With shockwaves from the national #MeToo movement still reverberating through the Capitol, McClain recognized the potential for backlash if the back-channel arrangement came to light.

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“I cannot tell you how important it is to keep all of this confidential,” McClain warned Quinn in another email. “These men are sticking their necks out knowing full well if it goes public before you are exonerated they will get the full blast from the ‘MeToo’ movement. So, please honor the confidentiality.”

rlong@chicagotribune.com

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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