Gov. Candidate calls for investigation into ‘patronage’ hires by Pritzker

A Republican candidate for governor is calling for an investigation into what he says is patronage hiring by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s staff of close allies of former House Speaker Michael Madigan. Emails released by the Jesse Sullivan campaign between former Madigan associate Michael McClain and members of Pritzker’s staff show discussions abut hiring potential candidates for jobs within the governor’s administration.

“An investigation is necessary because the most powerful politician in Illinois and his right-hand man have been indicted on federal racketeering charges,” Sullivan told The Center Square. “We still do not know the extent of their influence in the Pritzker administration.”

Madigan faces 22 counts of corruption-related charges as part of a federal indictment that accuses him of using his elected position and political operation as a criminal enterprise for personal gain. McClain also has been charged in the case. As part of the federal investigation into Madigan, utility ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and cooperate with the corruption probe. As part of the agreement, the utility admitted it paid $1.3 million in jobs and contracts to associates of Madigan over nine years to influence the former House speaker. The emails obtained by the Sullivan campaign, Sullivan said, show how Madigan’s right-hand man, McClain, communicated with the highest levels of the Pritzker administration about job placements.

In one of the emails, McClain lobbies Pritzker’s deputy chief of staff for External Affairs, Sean Rapelyea, to hire an ally at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. McClain wrote in the emails that the candidate would “serve the Administration exceedingly well” and asked the deputy chief what steps to take to get this person hired. Sullivan said the emails show questionable practices by the governor and his staff. “What these emails show is that the Madigan enterprise was placing job candidates in the highest positions of the Pritzker administration, and that’s wrong,” Sullivan said. The Pritzker administration did not return a request for comment.

“Madigan is known for this corruption he has built into this system with patronage networks for decades,” Sullivan said. “That close relationship continues with Gov. J.B. Pritzker.” In 2020, WBEZ Chicago reported that the Pritzker administration hired 35 individuals who were on Madigan’s “clout list.” In February 2019, emails show that McClain also lobbied the Pritzker administration to appoint a Madigan ally to the Prisoner Review Board. “He is a compassionate republican and would serve the citizens well,” McClain wrote in his email. The candidate’s name is redacted, but WBEZ reported McClain and Madigan recommended former Quincy Ald. Daniel Brink to Pritzker for the position. Brink was eventually hired and was given an $88,000 a year salary. The emails also show McClain consulting with Pritzker’s staff about hiring a candidate for a liaison position. McClain wrote to Pritzker Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs Tiffany Newbern. “Have you looked at [redacted]. She is ‘young’ to the dark side but is impressive,” McClain said about the candidate.

Newbern wrote back thanking McClain for his suggestion and agreeing to bring that candidate in for an interview. “They can speak about a candidate as a member of the dark side and no one bats an eye,” Sullivan said. “It just speaks to the culture of corruption that they have going on in the state for decades that Pritzker has been a part of.” In another email, to Pritzker spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh, McClain offers condolences over an investigation into Pritzker’s removal of toilets from one of his Gold Coast mansions in an effort to lower his property taxes. “I am deeply sorry about the alleged federal investigation,” McClain wrote. The Cook County Inspector General called it a “scheme to defraud” the county. Sullivan is running in the Republican primary for governor in June. He faces several other Republican candidates, including Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, state Sen. Darren Bailey, suburban businessman Gary Rabine and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf.