Ex-Speaker Michael Madigan’s pension payments balloon as judge grants defense until next year to file motions in racketeering case

As a federal judge Tuesday granted a lengthy extension for Michael Madigan’s racketeering case, the former Illinois House speaker’s state pension has risen to nearly $149,000 a year, a more than $63,000 increase since he retired last year, records show.

The windfall is the result of both Madigan’s 50-plus years in the House and an often-beneficial state pension formula for lawmakers that Madigan himself helped push through. It also comes as the former Southwest Side lawmaker continues to battle a federal bribery-related case that will likely not see any significant court action until next year.

But while the case works its way through court, Madigan will continue to collect more than $12,400 per month from his state pension, a development one good government advocate said represented an “example of how out-of-whack the pension system is in Illinois.”

Madigan, the longest-serving state speaker in U.S. history, was indicted March 2, a year after he retired and started collecting pension checks at an annual payout rate of about $85,000. That figure was based on his annual speaker’s salary of about $100,000 — a standard payout of about 85%for a legislator with 20 years of service.

But under laws passed by the state during Madigan’s 36 years as speaker, that percentage goes up annually for lawmakers who have served beyond 20 years. For Madigan, the formula translated to the $63,000 bump, which took place in July, and explains why he is able to receive more in his pension than he did through his salary.

Moving forward, Madigan is eligible for 3% annual raises each July — unless he is convicted of crimes related to his legislative duties.

So far, records show, Madigan has collected $125,902.70 in pension payments since he retired in 2021 after he was ousted from being speaker amid an alleged scheme by utility giant Commonwealth Edison to bribe him.

Madigan, 80, and longtime ComEd lobbyist Michael McClain, 74, of Quincy, were charged in March in a 22-count indictment alleging they conspired to participate in an array of bribery and extortion schemes from 2011 to 2019, including a plot to steer payments from ComEd to members of Madigan’s vast political operation in exchange for the speaker’s help with legislation in Springfield.

The indictment also accused Madigan of illegally soliciting business for his private property tax law firm during discussions to turn a state-owned parcel of land in Chinatown into a commercial development.

Both Madigan and McClain, also a former state representative, have pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys have accused prosecutors of trying to criminalize legal political actions such as job recommendations in a quest to bring down the once-powerful speaker.

On Tuesday, in the first status hearing in the case in four months, U.S. District Judge Robert Blakey set a Feb. 1 deadline for attorneys to file pretrial motions. The judge said he was granting the delay “upfront” so defense attorneys wouldn’t have to come back and ask for more time.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu had asked for pretrial motions to be due sometime this year. The prosecutor said discovery was “substantially complete” in the case, and noted that Madigan “is being represented by a large and prestigious law firm” and has six criminal defense attorneys that have entered appearances for him.

But Patrick Cotter, who represents McClain, said he and his team are busy preparing for McClain’s upcoming trial in March on separate charges involving the alleged scheme.

Cotter said he’d be at a significant disadvantage trying to go through the discovery in the Madigan case — including 201 discs of material turned over by the U.S. attorney’s office in the last five weeks alone — and preparing motions while also gearing up for a jury trial. Blakey set a status hearing for Jan. 9.

As the case wends its way through the court, the pension dollars will continue to flow because Madigan, like other criminal defendants, is considered innocent until proven guilty.

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Susan Garrett, chair of the Center for Illinois Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocate of good government, said the “increase for Mike Madigan is an example of how out of whack the pension system is in Illinois.”

“It’s a steep increase,” said Garrett, a former Democratic lawmaker from Lake County. “To the average person, this might seem unfair.”

Kent Redfield, a longtime political analyst, acknowledged lawmakers often work hard and House legislators must run every two years to keep their jobs, but he considered the Madigan pension “overly generous,” particularly since it is almost $50,000 more than his final salary as speaker.

“Legislative pensions for long-serving members are more generous than other state employees,” said Redfield, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “I don’t see how you can justify that on an equity basis.”

Legislative pensions have been reined in for newer lawmakers, but Madigan’s retirement checks are grandfathered in. A law Madigan championed to scale back state pensions overall was tossed out unanimously by the Illinois Supreme Court.

In a 6-1 opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that former Republican Gov. George Ryan should forfeit his pension following his 2006 corruption conviction that grew out of a licenses-for-bribes scandal rooted in his two terms as secretary of state and spilled over to his actions as governor.

But Ryan was able to collect $635,000 in the three years between leaving office and his conviction. He also was able to get back a $235,000 refund for the contributions he’d made to the system over the years.

The lone justice to oppose the ruling to take away Ryan’s pension was Anne Burke, who is now the high court’s chief justice and is married to 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke, who has pleaded not guilty to federal charges in his own separate corruption case.

Justice Burke had maintained Ryan’s corruption could be connected to his terms as governor and secretary of state. But, in her dissent, she ruled there was “no such nexus” to corruption during his time as lieutenant governor or House lawmaker and that pension benefits for those years should not be disqualified.

A pension oversight panel changed the rules following the Ryan flap and misdeeds by other public officials by limiting the amount of refunds a retiree could receive following a conviction based on how much money had been paid out in pension benefits.

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