Hamilton denies side businesses mask pay-to-play deals
Although there is no evidence of wrongdoing, an Illinois government official’s close ties to two side businesses that could benefit from his day job present a problem of optics, according to an op-ed piece by the Illinois Policy Institute.
Andrew Hamilton has served as executive director of the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority (UIRVDA) in Ottawa since 1994, and he heads up seven other regional development authorities (RDAs) across the state. These include the Will Kankakee Regional Development Authority and the Southeastern Illinois Economic Development Authority.
RDAs “can issue bonds that can finance capital improvements and can reduce the rate of interest,” according to UIRVDA's website. In essence, RDAs can offer low-interest loans to help spur business growth, as well as create enterprise zones, “which come with their own subsidies and tax perks,” the institute’s article states.
The problem of optics arises in light of two separate ancillary businesses that Hamilton operates. One, Opportunity Alliance, “boasts its ability to secure state enterprise zones and tax abatements, as well as ‘government access services,’” the institute says.
The other company, Financial Services, which Hamilton launched before his job with the RDAs, helps businesses secure government loans and other assistance.
“There is no crystal clear evidence of wrongdoing here,” wrote Austin Berg, director of content strategy for Illinois Policy Institute, in the op-ed piece. “But part of that is because these authorities provide too little information to the public.”
Berg said in an email exchange that Hamilton had “said [that] an RDA over which he has authority has never approved a deal benefitting a client.”