Obscure official made more than $2M off Illinois development authorities, connected side business
Andrew Hamilton and his consulting firm have collected more than $2 million from eight regional development authorities since 2010.
Andrew Hamilton has made millions through an obscure economic development tool that has flown under the radar of Illinois government watchdogs for years. But recent actions by Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly suggest that cash flow could soon come to an end.
Illinois is home to 10 regional development authorities, or RDAs. These little-known agencies are spread across the state, located in regions 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.
Hamilton is listed as the executive director of eight of the state’s 10 RDAs, while also running a closely related side business called Opportunity Alliance. The company’s website, which was recently taken down 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 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 what new documents reveal is that two RDAs themselves – the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority, or UIRVDA, and Western Illinois Economic Development Authority – were clients of Opportunity Alliance. Other clients of Hamilton’s business include Phillips 66, Walgreen Company, Monsanto and Motorola Mobility.
Hamilton’s largest benefactor is UIRVDA, which has paid him more than $537,000 in executive compensation and nearly $292,000 in reimbursements since 2010, while also channeling over $128,000 to Opportunity Alliance.
While records obtained by the Institute only date back to 2010, Hamilton has served as executive director for three authorities – including UIRVDA – since the mid-1990s, meaning these records likely only capture a glimpse of the official’s questionable business arrangements.
Payments from these RDAs might not last much longer, however, if reform efforts by the Rauner administration find favor in the General Assembly. 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.”