00:06 Philip Blumel: Is the longest serving house speaker in US history also the nation’s most corrupt? It could be. Although there’s a lot of competition. Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to episode number 100 of No Uncertain Terms, official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of July 27, 2020.
00:25 STACEY SELLECK: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
00:30 PHILIP BLUMEL: Illinois’ House Speaker Michael Madigan is the longest-serving leader of any state or federal legislature in the history of the United States. Last week, federal prosecutors delivered new Grand Jury subpoenas to Madigan’s offices including his home. It appears the Illinois utility ComEd has been lavishing contracts and sub-contracts and even hiring Madigan’s supporters for years in exchange for corporate welfare and other favors that require the speaker’s blessing. But that’s not the only corruption news from last week. It appears Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and others were arrested by Federal agents as part of a $60 million racketeering and bribery investigation. Also, former New York assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver was sentenced to prison last week for his conviction on corruption charges. That is three house speakers in three important states. Let’s turn to Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of US term limits, and see what lessons we can glean from these headlines. Hey, Nick.
01:34 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: We have some breaking news.
01:36 PHILIP BLUMEL: Yeah.
01:36 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Politicians in Illinois are corrupt.
01:39 PHILIP BLUMEL: Really?
01:41 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: And water is wet. More at 11.
01:44 PHILIP BLUMEL: No kidding. Well, Nick, they say, the bigger they come, the harder they fall. And the big news this week of this trio, this nefarious trio is gotta be Michael Madigan, longest-serving house speaker or speaker of even the federal legislature in US history, and this man is going down. Hasn’t happened yet, but the federal agents have showed up at his door with subpoenas, it’s all leaked out what they’re looking for, and it’s pretty clear that he’s up to his ears in it.
02:16 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: If you think about it, you couldn’t even really have a Michael Madigan, maybe 100 years ago, much less when this country started, because people only lived to about 49 years old. This guy’s been in office for 49 years.
02:29 PHILIP BLUMEL: Yeah [chuckle] That’s right.
02:30 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: 35 years as the speaker, 49 years in office. He was elected during Richard Nixon’s first term. First term.
02:39 PHILIP BLUMEL: Alright, it’s incredible.
02:40 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: 1971.
02:41 PHILIP BLUMEL: Yeah.
02:42 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: It’s ridiculous. Yeah, he’s a short guy, but he’s a giant in Illinois politics.
02:47 PHILIP BLUMEL: Sure is.
02:49 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: And he’s had corruption rackets going for a very long time. There was one quote by a Illinois legislator who said, “We’ve all been waiting for this moment, we all knew the hammer would come down on Madigan at some point.”
03:02 PHILIP BLUMEL: Yeah, yeah.
03:03 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: It’s like we’re like little kids in the car who are asking, are we there yet? Are we there yet, are we there yet? And it looks like they’re finally there.
03:08 PHILIP BLUMEL: Yeah.
03:08 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: It looks like Madigan’s finally the target of a federal investigation. They’ve been hit with a Grand Jury subpoena. The governor of Illinois has even said that Madigan should resign…
03:21 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right.
03:22 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: If the allegations are true. That’s a big deal. That’s like…
03:23 PHILIP BLUMEL: It sure is.
03:23 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Emperor Palpatine losing the support of Darth Vader.
03:27 PHILIP BLUMEL: Also, the mayor of Chicago, Lightfoot, she also came out and said the same thing, if these things are true, he should resign. Now, of course, they both know and everyone knows it’s true. Even if they don’t know the specifics that he has been involved in these kind of schemes to have his cronies been given jobs and contracts for decades. So it’s no surprise.
03:46 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: And he runs the largest property tax law firm in Cook County, which is the most corrupt county in America. Sorry, Broward. He basically… He’s been doing this for many years. He gets the property appraisers elected, and then what he’ll do is he’ll represent these wealthy, these well-connected corporations in their appeal, and he’s gotten billions of dollars in reductions. He’s the number one guy who does that.
04:13 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right.
04:14 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: And it hurts people in Illinois because it shifts the tax burden to them. That’s why you’ve got busboys and people who are making the minimum wage. They’re paying all the taxes in Illinois because these wealthy people are getting off scot-free because Madigan is bribing them with their own money.
04:29 PHILIP BLUMEL: That’s right.
04:30 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: But now, he’s the target this time, and he’s the target of taking bribes. His associates are taking bribes from the biggest power company in Illinois.
04:39 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right.
04:41 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: They’re steering contracts, jobs, etcetera, to his cronies. People are getting hired and they’re not even doing anything. They’re just getting money for nothing in exchange for these special deals from the legislature, which is controlled by Madigan.
04:52 PHILIP BLUMEL: That’s right.
04:52 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: And those deals have been worth at least $150 million.
04:56 PHILIP BLUMEL: It’s incredible. The complaint actually specifically says what you just said, that these Madigan allies that got these jobs from Commonwealth Edison, they did no work for the company. None.
05:08 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: And what we see with Illinois, too, over and over again, it is America’s biggest cauldron of corruption. It’s getting so bad, they’re gonna have to build a separate prison just for the politicians. And it’s not just the state. It’s also local. Remember we did an episode not long ago about that alderman from Chicago? The guy’s been in office for like 50 years and he got in trouble, he got wiretapped ’cause he was extorting a Burger King or something ridiculous? It’s like small time ridiculous corruption, and in Illinois, it’s endless. And here’s the thing about the state. There are no term limits to be found anywhere. None. Illinois is a term limit free zone, and they have professional politicians as far as the eye can see. Does that produce better government? Does all that experience… Does that make them experts on policy? No. It turned the state and the local government there into corrupt mobsters.
06:06 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right. And one reason why they don’t have term limits in Illinois is because of Michael Madigan himself. If you recall that there were two episodes where the citizens of Illinois got together and collected the signatures to put a term limits amendment on the ballot that would limit the terms of the Illinois legislature. In both times, the court shot it down, and the second one is even more incredible because the law was re-crafted to meet the objections of the court the first time back in 1994.
06:35 PHILIP BLUMEL: And the court shot it down again. That’s because it’s a corrupt system, and then in the legislature itself, there was an attempt in 2015 where a bill came up with a lot of support after all of these corruption cases were bubbling up. And it could not get out of the Madigan-controlled Rules Committee. He put his thumb on it. His opposition to term limits has been recorded. He says that, “Well, I accept the voters term limiting politicians.” Now, of course, he would. Because what do you think the election record shows regarding Madigan? In 2018, he was unopposed. In 2016, he was unopposed [chuckle] In 2014, he was unopposed. I mean, there were no elections held, he was automatically sent back to office.
07:24 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: What’s true of every competition? The people who write the rules are gonna win the game.
07:28 PHILIP BLUMEL: That’s right.
07:28 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Illinois districts are so gerrymandered that a gold fish has a better chance of getting elected in Madigan’s district than a Republican, and is a Democrat gonna run against him? I bet a Democrat who runs against Madigan winds up in the concrete in the end zone at Chicago Bear’s Stadium.
07:45 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right.
07:46 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: The Madigan machine, it’s been around for a long time. Everyone in Illinois knows about it. It’s coin-operated, and what really gives the speakership so much power is the vote for the Rules of the Chamber. Madigan, unlike most speakers in the country, has unique control over the committee chairmanships. He not only assigns them, but he also assigns the stipends that go along with it. You get $10,000 if you’re a committee chair. So that means Madigan controls who votes in committees. He decides when a bill is gonna be called for a vote. He even controls what bills get a vote in the first place. He basically has absolute power, and he’s also the only house speaker to simultaneously be the head of the state’s biggest political party. He’s been chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1998. So that really magnifies his power and he is, without term limits, a guy like that is unstoppable, and in many cases, unstoppably corrupt.
08:45 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right.
08:47 This is a public service announcement.
08:53 PHILIP BLUMEL: Peter Schiff is a financial commentator, economist, and radio personality. He is CEO and Chief Global Strategist of the Euro Pacific Capital Incorporated, a broker-dealer based in Westport, Connecticut. When he appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast last week, episode 592, the conversation turned to power and corruption, and then naturally to term limits.
09:14 JOE ROGAN: You think that the competition or the nature of the free market would have been better off without the intervention of the government. But you understand, the government was kind of put in there to regulate things because they thought that people were gonna get out of hand and they wanted to make sure that things were fair. But then the government grew too big, and became a problem with human beings in general. And this is my perspective.
09:37 PETER SCHIFF: Yeah.
09:37 JOE ROGAN: Human beings in general…
09:38 PETER SCHIFF: Well government always gets corrupt…
09:38 JOE ROGAN: But hold on a second…
09:39 PETER SCHIFF: The problem is, you know…
09:40 JOE ROGAN: Human beings in general, have a problem when they have power over other human beings. And if that power is absolute like the power of the government, if that power’s absolute, like the power of the police…
09:52 PETER SCHIFF: Well here’s the problem…
09:52 JOE ROGAN: If that power is absolute, that’s where people have a problem. Because human beings, just in general, have a problem with having absolute power over other people. And if you add that to government and business…
10:03 PETER SCHIFF: Yeah well, absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is the problem.
10:04 JOE ROGAN: And it fucks up… And it fucks up what you do.
10:06 PETER SCHIFF: When you have politicians, right?
10:08 JOE ROGAN: Yes.
10:08 PETER SCHIFF: And maybe term limits would help this, if we could have some term limits or something like that. Maybe you can’t be in government for more than… I don’t know, five or ten years, and then that’s it.
10:18 JOE ROGAN: We need to put these people on mushrooms, immediately.
10:19 PETER SCHIFF: It’s not a career, but these bureaucrats get in office and they wanna stay there. They like it. They enjoy…
10:28 JOE ROGAN: Of course.
10:28 PETER SCHIFF: The perks, the privileges. So what they do is they go out and they try to raise money to get reelected. So they go to somebody and they say, “Give me money to help me.” And it’s like, “Well, what are you going to do for me? What’s in it for me?” “Alright, well, I’ll give you this special tax break, or I’ll do something to protect you. Or I’ll hurt… ” and so this is what happens. So people are bribing politicians to use their power to benefit them or to hurt their competitors. We need to disarm the bureaucrats. We have to take the power away from Washington. Washington needs to live by the Constitution, which limited federal power. Almost everything that government does today is unconstitutional, yet they do it anyway.
11:06 JOE ROGAN: Yes.
11:06 PETER SCHIFF: That… Its the fact that they can wield this unconstitutional power.
11:11 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Think about this in the broader context of term limits and this movement that we work on, that the people are overwhelmingly behind. If you walk into any government building in America and you ask for term limits, what are the politicians gonna say? They’re gonna tell you it’s a bad idea because they need institutional knowledge. Anywhere you go, you can walk into the town council of Poughkeepsie, New York or Mars, Pennsylvania, and they’re gonna feed you this same bull crap about how important it is that politicians can grow old and die in office. Meanwhile, everything that’s run by career politicians sucks.
11:51 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right.
11:51 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Congress sucks. They’re 25 trillion…
11:54 PHILIP BLUMEL: It doesn’t operate. It’s corrupt.
11:55 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: It’s dysfunctional. They are 25 trillion dollars in debt. Illinois sucks, they’re 200 billion dollars in debt. When Madigan was elected, they had the best bond rating in the country. Now they’re the worst. They’re one step above junk.
12:07 PHILIP BLUMEL: That’s it.
12:08 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: The take away from all of this is: Career politicians are a failed model of government. There’s too much greed, there’s too much self-interest, everyone with a pulse and a brain and a television, and the newspaper realizes this except for the politicians themselves and it sickens me. End of story. Well, maybe not. Is it the end of story?
12:31 JOE ROGAN: I don’t think so…
12:31 PHILIP BLUMEL: No it’s not the end of the story, because the Speaker of the Ohio House, a Republican, was just arrested last week also. For what? Very similar situation: Corruption involving an energy company. And he was arrested at his home and facing the same kind of… The same kind of justice that Madigan is going to. So it’s a bipartisan thing. I’m talking about House Speaker Larry Householder of Ohio.
12:55 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Wasn’t he trying to repeal term limits, though, before he got caught? Because Ohio has term limits. They’re pretty flimsy, but despite the fact that Ohio has very flimsy term limits, this guy was trying to repeal them because he wanted to lock in this corruption empire for a very long time.
13:09 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right.
13:10 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: And the term limits wouldn’t let him do that.
13:12 PHILIP BLUMEL: He had already been in office and term-limited out, and very frustrated by that, and he was a big opponent of term limits. He ran again later and got back into office and immediately started trying to get rid of the term limits at the same time that he’s building this criminal empire, so it’s an interesting… He basically made the argument, which I find very laughable, that term limits are very oppressive to the citizens of Ohio and he was behind part of a measure that would increase the term limits, which were already pretty weak in Ohio, from eight-year term limits to 16-year limits.
13:45 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Twice the length of the President of the United States.
13:47 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right. And of course, these were going to apply to him.
13:50 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: I always find it funny when these local yokels, like politicians in Ohio or here in Florida or New Jersey or wherever, claim they needed double the term limit of the President of the United States. I mean don’t you think that’s hilarious?
14:03 PHILIP BLUMEL: If you can’t get your job done in eight years but the leader of the free world can, then you probably have no business running in the first place and you’re a joke and you should go be… You know, mop floors somewhere.
14:11 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Sure, I know we’re talking about executives that run giant organizations like the executive branch of the US government or a governorship of a state or a CEO of a major corporation, most of which serve less than eight years on average. And these are people with real responsibilities that require a lot of singular expertise and things and a certain level of responsibility. But members of a legislature, a pool of people making the case that they need double that time is so incredible and it’s just not… It doesn’t pass the smell test.
14:38 PHILIP BLUMEL: Well, I mean the… You need to figure out a lot of different things. First of all, how big is the bribe from the power company going to be? And then…
14:46 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: That’s right.
14:46 PHILIP BLUMEL: And then what’s the size of the bailout for the power company going to be? In this case, he got $60 million into his PAC, and then he steered 1.3 billion to the power company. You know Eric Householder is on record as saying, term limits aren’t a good bargain for the state of Ohio and he should know because he negotiated a huge bargain for his cronies and these fat cats and himself in doling out a $1.3 billion bailout.
15:11 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Yeah, to FirstEnergy Solutions of Akron, sure enough. So that was number two, and you know one thing that’s connected to corruption as we know is tenure. The longer the tenure, the more chance there is for corruption partly because of just simple opportunity, knowing the ropes and being able to do it and then finding out what other people have done. And also because of the arrogance that comes with being in office for so long. So that opportunity, and that arrogance together is a deadly combination if you’re interested in clean honest government.
15:50 KEN QUINN: Hi, this is Ken Quinn, Regional Director with US Term Limits. When we go back to the history of conventions, since 1892 there has been an official convention of states held every single year. This began amongst the states because the federal government was interfering with the states’ authority. Basically, they were encroaching on the states’ enumerated powers and what the states wanted to do was push the federal government back and say, “Hey listen, this falls under the 10th Amendment. So Feds, you mind your own business we’ll handle it.” Long story short, this began, it was originally called the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The purpose of it was to have the states propose Uniform State Laws, so when you travel from one state to another, the laws are uniform and this is fascinating. When I heard of this, it really piqued my interest. I actually attended one of their conventions, they meet every year for a week, it operates just like an Article V Convention.
16:54 KEN QUINN: Let me share with you how it does, the legislatures appoint the Commissioners. Some states, the Governor will appoint the Commissioner so it’s an official Commission. They are given Commissions when they go down to the convention every year, stated in those Commissions are what they are allowed to discuss. The scope of their convention is predetermined, so it’s a limited subject matter. They can only address the predetermined subjects, and what they do is they meet to draft, debate and pass what’s called, Model Acts or Uniform Acts. I’ll give you an example, most people have heard of the Uniform Commercial Code, that came from this body. It’s one state, one vote just like in Article V Convention. It’s only a proposal, and what happens, it even mirrors the ratification process. When I was there, what they do is they break up into committees, then they get together, they vote in a Committee of the Whole, and it’s fascinating. After an Act gets passed, their Commissioners then bring it back to their state legislature to find a sponsor to get it adopted as law.
18:08 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Well, the third one though this week was Sheldon Silver, the former New York Assembly Speaker. This guy was actually convicted in 2015 for extortion, fraud, money laundering. I think his scam was, he was laundering money through a law firm. His own law firm was getting asbestos cases, at the same time he was giving state grants to a professor who is doing research on asbestos and then referring all of the clients to Sheldon Silvers’ law firm. So Sheldon Silver was once again not doing any work, he was just reaping the rewards of this corrupt racket and these referrals that were coming to him as a result of his power and his position as the Speaker in New York. So he was convicted, he appealed, he won the appeal, he was tried again, and then he was found guilty again.
18:58 PHILIP BLUMEL: Yeah [chuckle]
19:00 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: And now he’s back being sentenced and he’s trying to use the Coronavirus as a get-out-of-jail free card, “I’m old, I’m sick, I can’t go to jail.” Look, don’t worry about it, Shelly, just wear a mask, you’ll be fine.
19:12 PHILIP BLUMEL: That’s right, masks hear it, we’d all know that. You know, he accepted 700,000 in fees from a Manhattan tax law firm for steering cases to it from Glenwood Developers. He was the Assembly Speaker for 21 years in New York, just to put a fine point on my issue, my point about tenure. Now he has an interesting quote about his conviction, which I think I wanna share with you. Before I mention this, do you think this gentleman was a fan of term limits?
19:40 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: I’m gonna go with option B.
19:42 PHILIP BLUMEL: [chuckle] Okay, very good. But maybe, as he’s had some time to sit around in a jail cell, that he has been… Starting to realize, maybe some of the error of his ways, ’cause he said that his actions, which he does not deny, and he admits now that he did wrong, he said his actions were a result of, “A misplaced sense of entitlement and loss of perspective as an elected official.” Is that a case for term limits?
20:09 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: It is, it actually reminds me of that study that was done, not too long ago, which showed that power causes brain damage. Remember?
20:18 PHILIP BLUMEL: [chuckle] That’s right, yes.
20:19 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: That holding power for too long can cause brain damage and it makes you a lot less empathetic and it distorts your sense of perspective. It makes a lot of sense. Yeah, he was sort of the Madigan of New York, 38 years in office overall, 21 years as Speaker, and I remember, one thing that very few people in New York, who follow politics there disagree on, believe it or not, is that when Sheldon Silver was first elected 40 years ago, he was actually a pretty good legislator. He spent the first few terms in the Assembly, helping to root out corruption, helping to pass ethics laws, helping to increase transparency. He was pretty decent when he first got there, but then, once he started rubbing elbows with lobbyists, falling into that crowd, losing the connection with his constituents, then he started to figure out, “How can I manipulate the system for personal gain?” It took time, it took the creation of power, and it took the growth of his own hubris, to get him to that point, where he went from a public servant into a self-servant.
21:21 PHILIP BLUMEL: Right. When you have the same bunch of entrenched people run an organization for a long period of time, they can also protect each other. When you have rotation in office on a regular basis, that doesn’t grow up, that doesn’t exist, and you have new people coming all the time, that have no vested interest in defending the wrongdoing of entrenched people in power, because the entrenched people in power are going out the door soon and new people are gonna replace them.
21:45 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: We could build, if we wanted to, at this point, a hall of corrupt politicians. A museum, if you will. Let’s get Disney involved in this. The Hall of Presidents has run its course, especially because the Trump figure stinks, it’s just Hillary with Trump hair glued on top of it.
22:05 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: So I’m calling for a new attraction to entertain the youths of America, the Hall of Crooked Politicians. You can have talking figures of America’s sleaziest snake oil salesman, Sheldon Silver, Michael Madigan, Eric Householder, they get up, they give a speech, they tell you how long they’ve been in office, how much money they’ve stolen. You could have a mini judge there, to re-enact the sentencing, maybe that could be played by Mickey Mouse, I don’t know, and every kid gets to go home with a complimentary toy set of handcuffs, I think that would sell a lot of tickets.
22:40 PHILIP BLUMEL: I do too. I’d go.
22:40 NICOLAS TOMBOULIDES: Make it happen, Disney.
22:44 PHILIP BLUMEL: Thanks for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. This week’s action item is for every activist in America, no matter what state you live in. We have been diligently collecting pledges from Congress members, for years, that commit them to co-sponsoring and voting for the US Term Limits Amendment. There are about 70, in the US Congress, that have signed the pledge. Now, they need to hear from you. This week, please sign the online petition, calling for hearings and a vote, in 2020, on HJR 20, the US Term Limits Amendment. You could do this at termlimits.com/2020housevote. After signing the petition, send the link to your friends and family, so they can add their names to the petition. That’s termlimits.com/2020housevote. Thanks. We’ll be back next week.
23:33 STACEY SELLECK: If you like what you’re hearing, please subscribe and leave a review. The No Uncertain Terms Podcast can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube, and now, Google Play.
23:49 PHILIP BLUMEL: USTL.