State Sen. Bill Brady voted in November for tax subsidies that helped revive his family’s struggling real estate investment in a central Illinois town, raising issues of potential conflict of interest as Brady seeks the Republican nomination for governor.
A developer building an assisted-living complex in Gibson City said the subsidies are crucial to making the project work. And he paid Brady’s family a premium for the land he needed, just a few months before the senator’s vote.
Illinois law allows lawmakers to vote on matters that could benefit their private interests, requiring only that they consider whether to abstain. Brady says he saw no conflict of interest in his Nov. 7 vote because his mother, a real estate agent, owned the land at the time.
“I had an interest, but I don’t have an interest now,” Brady told the Tribune recently when asked about his vote. But the assisted-living developer told the newspaper he dealt only with Bill Brady when he bought the land.
Nancy K. Brady had acquired the property after the business run by her sons could not develop the land and turned it over to the bank that lent them the money.
The complexities of the deal raise political and ethical issues for Brady as he makes his third straight bid for the Republican nomination for governor. Beyond his credentials as a business-savvy leader for a debt-ridden state, the details shed light on how Brady manages his separate duties as a public official and a real estate developer whose private interests depend on government for everything from zoning changes to subsidies.
This is not the first time Brady has voted in Springfield to support incentives benefiting a development project connected to his sprawling family real estate business. During his first run for governor in 2010, the Tribune reported that Brady had repeatedly voted to authorize Champaign city officials to make infrastructure improvements that supported a Brady family development project on the outskirts of the city.
In the Champaign case, Brady told the newspaper he was not required to disclose a potential conflict or abstain from voting because he didn’t believe the city improvements directly benefited his development project.
Under a state law criticized as weak by many ethics groups, legislators are not prohibited from taking votes that could benefit their private interests. They are only required to consider whether to abstain.
Kent Redfield, who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Brady should have at least declared the conflict of interest.
“Brady has his obligations and responsibilities as a legislator to the citizens of Illinois, but he also has a family interest in the legislation. In those types of cases, you should disclose, and it’s up to the individual legislator as to whether they vote or recuse themselves,” Redfield said. It is “best for public officials to avoid voting on issues where they have a conflict of interest because people are going to connect the dots. … There are going to be people that look at that and say, you’re doing this to promote your own personal interests.”
The bumpy road for the Gibson City development mirrors the fortunes of Brady’s family business, which for years developed moderately priced homes in central Illinois. The development company faltered when the housing market began to collapse in 2007.
Brady has faced loan default lawsuits in recent years involving more than $4 million in delinquent debt, and he said he has shifted most of this business into realty franchises selling existing homes. In a December interview, Brady said the family business had only one ongoing development project, in Gibson City, “and that wouldn’t be viable without a TIF.”
Gibson City, a farming community of fewer than 4,000 residents about a half-hour drive from either Champaign or Bloomington, has a community hospital, an ethanol plant and a new golf course.
In 2003, town officials created a tax increment financing, or TIF, district to spur residential development.
Brady was also one of the first developers to get involved in Gibson City’s plans. In 2006, his Pinehurst Development paid $240,000 for 35 acres of farmland adjacent to both the golf course and an elementary school, records show. More…