ComEd to return $38 million in wake of Madigan scandal, but critic says it falls short

Commonwealth Edison customers expect a refund of approximately $38 million, or an average of just under $5 per residential customer, to address what the utility giant acknowledged as its “unacceptable conduct” in the bribery-related scandal. that has spread. in Illinois and helped end Michael Madigan’s historic run as Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

The Illinois Commerce Commission on Tuesday approved the repayment plan on a 3-0 vote, with the ICC president abstaining from the vote because her father-in-law was embroiled in the scandal.

The $38 million rebate was an amount ComEd offered after an earlier $21 million proposal in December drew criticism for being too small.

But even the latest amount drew boos from a major utility watchdog.

Abe Scarr, who heads the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, said ComEd customers will receive credits on future bills totaling less than $5 for a typical customer, an amount he has repeatedly called “dumb change” for the giant utility company.

The size of each customer’s rebate would be based on individual electricity usage, including business customers. But overall, under the plan, a typical residential customer will see a credit on their April 2023 electric bill of $4.80.

Scarr criticized the decision as the product of a “very narrow view of ComEd’s misconduct,” because it limits payments largely to direct costs to the employees responsible for the scheme.

But ComEd CEO Gil Quiniones said in a statement that the $38 million refund “settles any question whether customer funds were used in connection with the unacceptable conduct” described by federal prosecutors.

He added that the utility continues to build on “significant new policies, rigorous employee oversight and training … to ensure that the past conduct that prompted this reimbursement never happens again.”

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The ICC order is designed to resolve two investigations, one initiated by the ICC and another mandated by a sweeping energy law passed last year, that required examining whether ComEd improperly charged taxpayers for costs related to the Madigan scandal.

The customer refund follows ComEd’s separately negotiated $200 million federal penalty that was part of the deal with US Attorney John Lausch that interrupted Madigan’s political career and roiled Illinois politics.

Subsequent political fallout led to Madigan’s removal as president in January 2021, ending his record 36-year reign as the longest-serving leader of a legislative chamber in the country.

The dethroned speaker and former chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party faces a 22-count indictment alleging racketeering, bribery and racketeering in what prosecutors called the illegal “Madigan Enterprise.” Madigan of Chicago and his co-defendant, Michael McClain of Quincy, a former Democratic lawmaker and former ComEd lobbyist, have pleaded not guilty.

Madigan, 80, and McClain, 74, allegedly conspired to participate in a series of bribery and extortion schemes between 2011 and 2019, including a plot to divert ComEd payments to members of Madigan’s vast political operation to change of the support of the speaker to the legislative assembly of the company. diary.

McClain has a separate bribery trial set to begin in March with former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker and consultant Jay Doherty, a lobbyist who once ran the City Club of Chicago.

Carrie Zalewski, president of the ICC, recused herself from participating in the regulatory decision on Tuesday. Her father-in-law is the former Ald. Mike Zalewski, 23, who had a ComEd subcontract through Doherty. The former councilman’s home was raided by federal agents in 2019, but he has not been charged. He is the father of state Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat who was defeated in the primary. Representative Zalewski is married to the president of the ICC.

The ICC action approved about $31.3 million under state jurisdiction. The action paved the way for an additional refund of more than $5 million, plus interest, to be filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, bringing the overall total to about $38 million, ComEd said.

The calculations used to get ComEd’s overall total reimbursement included top officials’ salaries, such as the $1.8 million paid to Pramaggiore in 2011 alone.

Quiñones said, “The quality and value of ComEd’s service to our customers is arguably the best in the country, but we recognize that delivering excellent performance and value for the dollar is not enough and we are just as dedicated to earning and keeping the trust of our customers. customers. We are committed to maintaining high standards of ethical behavior for our business, our leaders and all employees.”

rlong@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @RayLong

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