CHICAGO - Consumer activists who have long criticized the Illinois Commerce
Commission for being too cozy with a major utility it regulates are pointing to
a baseball game as further evidence of their claims.
They are scrutinizing Illinois Commerce Commission senior staff members who
enjoyed choice seats at White Sox playoff games this week, thanks to
Commonwealth Edison, a utility they are in charge of regulating.
Commission officials said Friday they have begun an investigation into how
the four staffers got tickets to the box seats.
State Rep. Clem Balanoff, D-Chicago, is calling for more stringent measures.
He sent a letter Friday asking Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to
"immediately launch an investigation" into the ICC staff members' conduct.
Balanoff, who represents Chicago's Southeast Side, Burnham and the northern
portion of Calumet City, also said he will introduce legislation to prohibit
any ICC employee from accepting gifts or preferential treatment from those
they're charged with regulating.
Further, he said he is asking ICC Chairman Ellen Craig to put together a
code of ethics for ICC employees.
"The ICC has historically supported the utility companies," Balanoff said.
"Four times in a row, the ICC has approved rate increases for Commonwealth
Edison only to have (those increases) overturned by the courts.
"Three former chairmen of the ICC - Michael Hasten, Marvin Lieberman and
Phil O'Connor - have gone to work for Commonwealth Edison immediately after
leaving the commission," he said. "And former Chairman Terry Barnich was caught
having made more than 300 calls to Commonwealth Edison's attorneys, executives
and lobbyists while a rate case was pending before the commission."
The commission rules on rate-increase requests for Commonwealth Edison and
other utilities. In the past, accusations have been made that politically
appointed ICC officials were far too friendly with utilities.
"The average ratepayer will read about this and think that the fix is in,"
said Martin Cohen, associate director of the Citizens Utility Board consumer
group. "Clearly, the relationship between the staff and the company is much too
cozy if they're going to ball games together."
The Illinois Commerce Commission is still researching final documents in the
$1.68 billion Commonwealth Edison rate refund and reduction case.
The four ICC staff members who used the tickets were not identified by the
utility or the commission.
Edison Vice President Don Petkus confirmed the company provided the
hard-to-get tickets, but said the staffers paid for them at their $40 face
value. The tickets were for Edison box seats along the first-base line.
Several commission staff members had made it known to the company that they
would like to watch the White Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays in the sold-out
American League Championship Series, he said.
ICC spokesman David Farrell said the situation "does raise the appearance of
impropriety," and said an investigation would be launched.
Petkus said he did not consider the issue an ethical violation because the
staffers paid for them, but acknowledged the box seats were hard to come by.
Scalpers were getting far more than face value on the streets outside the game.