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Madigan: Watchdog Group Running Smear Campaign Against Democrats

By Chuck Sudo in News on Oct 30, 2013 9:00PM

Better Government Association President and CEO Andy Shaw (left) and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan

Government watchdog group The Better Government Association is getting under Michael Madigan’s skin. At least that’s how we see it after the Illinois House Speaker sent a letter to fellow Democratic lawmakers accusing BGA and its President and CEO Andy Shaw of trying to “become a kingmaker in Illinois politics” and having an agenda to “impugn the Democratic Party.”

Madigan, himself a kingmaker in Illinois politics, probably wrote that without irony.

Madigan sent the letter on Illinois Democratic Party letterhead—because that’s what a political power broker does—to the House Democratic caucus and members of the Democratic State Central Committee. Madigan wrote the letter in response to a Sun-Times/BGA investigation into how 29 of 30 people who circulated petitions in 2011 to get Madigan on the ballot for re-election either had or have government jobs. Those 29 people cost taxpayers nearly $2 million a year; contributed $200,000 to the campaign funds of Madigan or his daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; and some are drawing public pensions while still working for government agencies.

Madigan wrote the letter Oct. 24, before the Sun-Times/BGA investigation was published, but he has been a key figure in the political hiring scandal at Metra this summer. According to ex-Metra CEO Alex Clifford, Madigan requested a promotion for former agency employee Patrick Ward, who was already collecting a $52,700 pension on top of his $57,000 salary. (Ward eventually got his pay raise by moving over to Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration.) Shaw wrote at the time:

“If Mike Madigan knew Mr. Ward was collecting two pensions on top of his Metra salary, his request that Ward get a raise is even more craven and more reflective of a system that serves the insiders instead of the public.”

The Sun-Times and BGA went door-to-door to verify the names on the petitions to ensure they matched names on names contained on state, county and municipal payroll records, campaign-finance reports and pension records. This was the focus of Madigan’s letter.

“Shaw has turned the organization’s focus toward the volunteer work of Illinois citizens who have exercised their First Amendment rights by circulating nominating petitions for me in previous years. The organization has gone so far as to harass these individuals at their homes,” Madigan wrote.

“Rather than work for positive change and reform in Illinois government, Andy Shaw has resorted to using bullying tactics against working men and women in an attempt to suggest they have done something improper,” the speaker and state Democratic Party chairman said. “The only thing these men and women have done is work to provide for their families while exercising their constitutional right to support Democratic candidates for office.”

Again, written without irony.

Shaw responded with his own open letter on the BGA’s website. And he promises the investigations will continue.

Sorry Mike--we're just doing our job, which is to shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable.

This is a story about the intersection of government, politics and money. Watchdogs tell those stories because citizens of Illinois deserve to know how their government works.

The BGA is a nonpartisan watchdog that investigates public officials and public policies, and recommends reform. We've been doing it for 90 years and sometimes our work ruffles a few feathers. Our only agenda is better government, and we invite everyone, including Mike Madigan, to join us in this effort.

Mike Madigan is a powerful political leader and we're a small watchdog organization, so you decide who's the bully.