She’s allowed felons to serve in municipal office; out-of-towners to serve as city alderman; many politicians to hold multiple – and conflicting – offices; a junior college to award more than $4 million in compensation to its president without a lawful board vote; and much more…
Lisa Madigan – daughter of power Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – first ran for attorney general in 2002 vowing, “It’s time that Illinois' highest legal official takes an active, hands-on role in cleaning up government. And I will not let them down.”
Madigan said she’d even prosecute her father if he were corrupt. It was tough language and a high promise.
Our organization, American Transparency (OpenTheBooks.com) fact checked her campaign promise. After ten years in office, Lisa Madigan had prosecuted only fourteen public officials for corruption: half were for DUI, reckless driving, or substance possession and she lost close to half of those cases. That’s an appalling record in a state with 7,000 units of government.
Madigan switched positions on public crime busting in 2014 saying her office lacked statutory power. The Chicago Tribune editorial board refused to endorse her for re-election recognizing the depth of statewide corruption and her reluctance to rein it in.
But, recently, we found that Lisa Madigan does have statutory power – and plenty of it.
Illinois has a little-known provision of the law called a Quo Warranto application. Once public malfeasance by an officeholder or unit of government is documented by a citizen, Illinois law mandates that citizens first request help from the attorney general. The attorney general reviews the application and then decides whether or not to enforce state law. By denying the application, the AG essentially forces the citizen to file a private lawsuit on their own dime or drop the matter altogether.
Over the past two years, nineteen Quo Warranto applications were filed with Attorney General Lisa Madigan. In all nineteen cases, Madigan denied the application. You can read a summary of these cases compiled by the noted downstate good government group, Edgar County Watchdogs.
Citizens identified a variety of cases including a felon serving in municipal office, a police officer sitting on his own city council – the same council that manages his department, cases of politicians holding multiple offices – in direct conflict with state statutes, and out-of-towners serving as "city alderman."
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Madigan’s refusal to prosecute public corruption and enforce basic laws makes a mockery of the concept of public service. Forcing citizens to prosecute the malfeasance themselves is an unnecessary, undue burden. In the City of Marshall, Warren Le Fever had to spend $4,426 of his own money to file his own lawsuit to stop the “out-of-towner” from serving and voting on his city council.
Madigan’s reluctance to use public funds to prosecute public corruption imposes a de facto “corruption tax” on every Illinois citizen. In other words, if ordinary citizens want to fight corruption, that fight has to be financed from their personal funds. Madigan imposes this tax in other ways as well.
Consider Madigan’s role in the massive scandal continuing to unfold after our investigation of the College of DuPage (COD). President Dr. Robert Breuder was forced to go on leave after allegedly mismanaging college funds yet he claimed a “contract” (i.e. a golden parachute) through 2019. But that claim was dependent on ‘extensions’ conferred without public board votes.
But in fact, our organization, American Transparency, found hard evidence that all board action since 2009 on Breuder’s contracts, addendums and extensions violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA). Because Quo Warranto applications are personally filed, I asked AG Madigan for help in December 2014. I argued that the contract was invalid because it was never lawfully conferred by the board.
This was a perfect chance for the attorney general to clarify the law and stop millions of dollars in compensation to one public official at a junior college – a college serving working class and middle class students.
Madigan, however, denied the Quo Warranto request. With this denial, the College of DuPage (COD) Board of Trustees then voted in January 2015 to give Dr. Breuder a $763,000 ‘voluntary’ retirement severance package. If Madigan would have enforced the law this golden parachute would have never been stitched together.
Inexplicably, although the attorney general refused to get involved, she now agrees with our findings. On July 24, 2015, the AG suddenly ruled on a pending ‘request for review’regarding the 2011 board ‘approval’ of the Breuder contract extension – after four years of stonewalling.
She opined that the COD Board violated the Open Meetings Act.
This is a welcome move but Madigan has a long way to go in the fight against public corruption and the lifting of her “corruption tax” that forces Illinois taxpayers to pester, badger and coerce her into doing her job.
Adam Andrzejewski is the Chairman of American Transparency and founder of the transparency website OpenTheBooks.com. This editorial reviews information collected via FOIA from the IL Attorney General. Read our Forbes profile: IL Attorney General Lisa Madigan's 'Friends and Family' $1 Million Patronage Pay Problem(s).