Chicago Mayoral Candidate Hands Out $200K At Church, Board Of Elections Allows It

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Democratic Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson’s handing out of nearly $200,000 at a recent South Side church event did not break campaign finance laws, the state board of elections ruled. Willie Wilson for Mayor | Screenshot

Democratic Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson's handing out of nearly $200,000 at a recent South Side church event did not break campaign finance laws, the state board of elections ruled.

Wilson, 70, rejected claims from political competitors that he was simply buying votes at the Sunday event held at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The Illinois State Board of Elections announced Monday it agreed with Wilson, because the money came from his registered nonprofit foundation at the event he promoted as "one of the biggest property tax relief assistance" events of 2018. Wilson owns and operates several McDonald's franchises in addition to owning a medical supplies company.

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Democratic Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson’s handing out of nearly $200,000 at a recent South Side church event did not break campaign finance laws, the state board of elections ruled. Reuters | Jim Young

The Dr. Willie Wilson Foundation announced on its Facebook page Sunday it had given away $300,000 to "struggling homeowners" on Chicago's South Side, although Wilson later told the Sun-Times it was closer to $200,000. Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who is currently embroiled in his own reelection campaign, also attended the event. But while Rauner's campaign released a statement distancing themselves from the event, Wilson told the Sun-Times he thinks people are trying to "make political hay out of it because they don't got nothing else on me."

Wilson initially received backlash after the Facebook post. Republican state Representative David McSweeney tweeted, "Check this out if you wonder why Illinois politicians are often a national joke. How can Willie Wilson, a candidate for Mayor of Chicago, literally hand out CASH at a public event? This is so wrong!" Another state congressman, Democratic Representative Emanuel Chris Welch, also criticized the two on Twitter, but incorrectly identified the pastor of the church: "What the hell? Is Bruce Rauner using Willie Wilson and Corey Brooks to buy votes???"

Wilson and his campaign spokesman told WGN-TV he organized the "normal" event simply to assist struggling homeowners and "there's no truth" to the allegations he was using the event to buy votes ahead of next February's general election for mayor. Wilson joins about 10 other official challengers looking to unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is seeking his third term in office. F. Scott Winslow, the Wilson for Mayor campaign spokesman, told WGN-TV the Sunday church event was not related to his mayoral campaign in any way.

"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 WGN-TV, adding that community members frequently approach the longtime Chicago businessman's foundation for financial help. "We've been paying people's property taxes for years."

Spokesman Matt Dietrich said the Illinois State Board of Elections concurred with Wilson's claim, saying that money which comes from his foundation is able to avoid campaign finance law violations.

"As far as we can see, it looks like he didn't use campaign funds for this," Dietrich told the Chicago Tribune. "And there doesn't appear to have been any quid pro quo, like, 'Here's some money, vote for me.' So from our perspective, it doesn't look like there was anything illegal about this."

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners told the Chicago Tribune they are actively monitoring Wilson's financial behavior, but their hands are tied until the deadline for candidates to file to run passes on November 26.

"We haven't received a formal complaint, and even if we did, we aren't in the municipal campaign yet, so it's not clear what our authority would be, other than to refer the situation to law enforcement," spokesman Jim Allen said.

Wilson's campaign spokesman challenged his competitors to use the foundation event for political gain.

"We dare them to make a campaign issue of this. Bring it on."

Chicago Mayoral Candidate Hands Out $200K At Church, Board Of Elections Allows It | U.S.