Illinois development authority ends payments to official’s side business following Institute investigation
Lax oversight of Illinois’ little-known regional development authorities has led to questionable business arrangements with one official in particular.
One of Illinois’ most active regional development authorities has ended a lucrative agreement with the side business of its executive director following an Illinois Policy Institute investigation. The Daily Herald reported Sept. 16 that Kane County officials will begin a public investigation of the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority, or UIRVDA.
UIRVDA Executive Director Andrew Hamilton has collected nearly $1 million from the authority since 2010 in executive pay ($537,499); reimbursements ($291,859); and payments to his closely related side business, Opportunity Alliance LLC ($128,314).
But UIRVDA is now discontinuing its $1,000 monthly retainer agreement with Opportunity Alliance. “This firm is no longer being utilized by the authority to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,” Hamilton told the Daily Herald.
Illinois is home to 10 regional development authorities, or RDAs. These little-known organizations are spread across the state, located in areas determined to need special economic development assistance. Their powers and revenue are derived primarily from their bonding authority. RDAs can secure longer-term financing at a lower interest rate on behalf of private businesses, and can help establish enterprise zones, which come with their own subsidies and tax perks.
Andrew Hamilton is listed as the executive director of eight of the state’s 10 RDAs, while also running Opportunity Alliance. Opportunity Alliance’s website, which was taken down earlier this year but is accessible via the Internet Archive, boasted its ability to secure state enterprise zones and tax abatements, as well as other “government access services.” The Illinois Policy Institute was the first to report on Hamilton’s private company and control of multiple RDAs.
RDAs overseen by Hamilton have facilitated hundreds of millions of dollars in financing to private businesses over the years, as well as enterprise zone benefits. In return, he and Opportunity Alliance have received more than $2 million in pay and reimbursements from those RDAs since 2010, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
In a May email, Hamilton wrote that an RDA where he serves as executive director has never approved a deal benefitting a client of his side business.
But two RDAs themselves – UIRVDA and the Western Illinois Economic Development Authority – were clients of Opportunity Alliance. Other clients include Phillips 66, Walgreen Company, Monsanto and Motorola Mobility.
If reform efforts led by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration find favor in the General Assembly, Hamilton’s remaining relationships with RDAs across the state may follow that of his severed business deal with UIRVDA.
In early May, the governor’s office sent a letter to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity requesting that the agency stop approving any enterprise zone applications brought by RDAs until state lawmakers pass a series of reform measures.
Some of Rauner’s requested changes included:
- “[T]hat no person with any form of financial interest or business relationship, formal or informal, in any economic development consulting, lobbying, or advising business may serve as an RDA executive.”
- “[T]hat no person serve as the Executive Director of any more than a single RDA.”
- “[T]hat the executive director of each RDA have his/her primary residence in one of the counties covered by the RDA.”