Thursday, January 21, 2010

More On the Madigan Rules

Posted By on 01.21.10 at 02:09 PM

The Tribune has a good piece on Michael Madigan, adding weight and needed attention to something Ben Joravsky's been writing about for awhile - potential conflicts of interest between his role as legislator, kingmaker, and partner in the powerful property tax law firm Madigan & Getzendanner. There's no smoking gun, but it's still worth a read.

Here's a bit of what Joravsky's written about Madigan over the years:

The [Cook County Board of Review] is one of those obscure bottom-of-the-ballot bodies elected by voters who for the most part have no idea whom they're voting for, much less what these officeholders do. Politics have a lot to do with who gets those spots. One commissioner, Larry Rogers, won thanks largely to support from Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Another, Joe Berrios, who also chairs the Cook County Democratic Party, rose through the ranks of Tom Keane's legendary 31st Ward organization. The third commissioner, Brendan Houlihan, ran with strong support from Cook County assessor James Houlihan (the two are not related).

And then there are the lawyers who come before this board. One of them is state Democratic Party chair and house speaker Michael Madigan, whose firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, specializes in large downtown commercial properties—including the Hancock.

This year, after hearing the appeal from Madigan's firm, the board lowered the Hancock's assessment from roughly $64.8 million to $53.5 million, a cut that will save Shorenstein about $4.8 million over the next three years. (Its last bill was for $3.5 million.) For another Madigan client, the 61-story AT&T Building at 227 W. Monroe, the board cut the assessment from $116.5 million to $105 million; its owners figure to save about $4.9 million over the next three years. Madigan's firm also represents the Citicorp Center at 500 W. Madison, which it saved $3.4 million, and the Prudential Plaza, which it saved about $6 million.

With his law practice, Madigan may have more influence on Cook County property taxes than any politician in the state. He's the legislative power people must court when they want the home owner's exemption extended or raised. When he does use his influence to hike the home owner's exemption, his commercial business booms as clients like the Hancock and Prudential hire him to appeal their assessments. Meanwhile, grateful home owners give him and his cohorts their votes. Any way you look at it, Madigan wins.

"The Madigan Effect: As the Hancock building gets a $4.8 million break, the little guy pays double." (11/29/07)

This one really burns my bacon:

On November 13 Chicago property owners affiliated with the Tax Reform Action Coalition marched on Madigan's downtown law office, where they left hundreds of letters calling on the speaker to use his influence to pass the bill. A few days later Madigan responded with the following form letter:

"I voted Yes for the renewal of the 7% cap. I encourage you to get Jim Houlihan and Mayor Daley to do a better job of persuading legislators to vote for the 7% cap."

Touche. Of course Madigan voted for the bill. After working against it behind the scenes—several sources tell me he put pressure on key legislators to vote against it—and saying nothing to support it when it came before the house, he voted for it to appease his southwest-side constituents and give himself plausible deniability when the protesters showed up at his door.

"With Friends Like These: If Daley and Madigan truly supported the property tax cap, don't you think it would've passed by now?" (11/30/06)

[A primer on the 7% cap, if you need to catch up; also important reading is Joravsky's take on the Cook County Assessor's race; Jim Houlihan's retirement means a void of power where he'd previously provided some balance against Madigan with regards to homeowner property taxes.]

It's not clear who initiated the Loyola handout. No local legislators are taking credit, as state rep Larry McKeon did when he got the state to sign an MOU committing $13.4 million to a Truman College construction project. McKeon and fellow north-side reps John Fritchey and Julie Hamos all say they had nothing to do with the Loyola deal. I called state rep Harry Osterman, whose district includes Loyola, but he never got back to me.

Most of his colleagues doubt Osterman has the clout to deliver $8 million for the school. "There's really only one member who can get this through at the last minute," says one state rep. "This clearly comes from the speaker's office." As more than one observer points out, Madigan graduated from Loyola; his daughter, attorney general Lisa Madigan, got her law degree there. Shirley Madigan, the speaker's wife, used to sit on Loyola's board, as did Bill Daley, Mayor Daley's brother. One state official cracks, "I know alums like to give back to their colleges, but usually they do it with their own money."

Madigan's spokesman Brown downplays the speaker's role in awarding the $8 million to Loyola. "A lot of people made a compelling case for this project," he says. But it's hard to see how. The MOU declares the project in the best interest of the state and its residents on the grounds that Loyola "seeks to expand the horizon of its students' understanding of themselves in relationship to the wider world." In the meantime the public is paying roughly $54 million of an $85 million construction project that benefits a private university charging $26,150 annual tuition and blessed with a growing endowment that now stands at about $260 million.

"Lucky Loyola: Just months after securing millions in TIF funds from the city, the tax-exempt religious institution bags another big handout from the state." (7/6/06)

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