CHICAGO — Willie Wilson, the millionaire businessman and candidate for Chicago mayor, handed out cash to potential voters Sunday morning at a church on Chicago’s South Side.
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, himself seeking re-election, joined Wilson at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church at the event, according to WGN.
An aide to Wilson said the businessman gave away $300,000 to 2,000 people through the Dr. Willie Wilson Foundation, a 501(c)(3). Such organizations are tax-exempt, must not be organized for the benefit of private interests and are restricted in how many political activities they can conduct. Wilson says he organized the giveaway to assist homeowners who are struggling to pay their property tax bills.
“My wife and I have been blessed by God to be able to get a few of the material things out of life and so it’s up to us to now continually to share back with all of you all and others,” Wilson told church members during the event.
Wilson’s campaign spokesman insists the appearance was not campaign related. But Chicago politicos on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about the event.
“What the hell? Is Bruce Rauner using Willie Wilson and Corey Brooks to buy votes???” tweeted State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, a Democrat.
New Covenant, where the event took place, is actually led by pastor Rev. Stephen J. Thurston and not Corey Brooks as Welch's tweet indicates.
“Check this out if you wonder why Illinois politicians are often a national joke,” Republican state Rep. David McSweeney said on Twitter. “How can Willie Wilson, a candidate for Mayor of Chicago, literally hand out CASH at a public event? This is so wrong!”
Wilson is known across Chicagoland for his generous charitable work and his support of various churches.
Reached by phone, F. Scott Winslow, Wilson for Mayor campaign spokesman, told WGN News Sunday’s event was “absolutely not” a campaign event. Winslow says since Wilson launched his second bid for Chicago mayor, he’s probably given away $500,000.
“While he happens to be a candidate, he’s been a philanthropist for 30 years,” Winslow said.
Winslow insists the campaign is not violating any campaign finance laws since it was not involved with today’s handout. But the event certainly had a political feel.
During the event, Rauner also addressed the church in brief remarks. The governor shared with worshippers that he received an award from the National Black Chamber of Commerce at an event in Washington, D.C. this past Friday, and talked about his work reforming Illinois’ criminal justice system and boosting education funding for schools.
With Wilson seeking to help property tax owners, Rauner did not pass on an opportunity to discuss his tax agenda. Rauner routinely rails against high property taxes.
“You pay the highest property taxes in America here in Chicago and the South Side and the south suburbs, “ said Rauner. “This is wrong. The system is broken and I’m trying to fix it.”
Rauner is facing Democrat J.B. Pritzker in November. Wilson is one of 10 candidates in the race for Chicago mayor.