When is a bribe, not considered a bribe?
When you’re running for mayor on the South Side of Chicago and handing out fresh dollar bills in a Baptist Church on a Sunday.
Millionaire mayoral candidate Willie Wilson appeared alongside Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on Sunday at a church in Chicago. Rather than giving out the customary political memorabilia like a pen or Bumper Sticker, the wealthy businessman decided to give out cold hard cash to churchgoers.
The “cash-for-votes” took place at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church where Governor Rauner running for re-election was also present glad-handing potential voters.
Wilson told church members during the event, “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 continue to share with all of you.”
He then began peeling off bills from a large stack of money, giving away an estimated $300,000 to 2,000 people through an organization billed as the “Wilson’s 501(c) (3) organization, the Dr. Willie Wilson Foundation.”
The overt payout raised more than few eyebrows even by Chicago standards, with its long history of shady back-room deals, which has through the years sent quite an array of colorful characters and elected officials to prison.
However, Wilson’s campaign spokesman insisted that the mayoral candidate’s church appearance was not for political purposes, although politicians on both sides of the divide were concerned regarding the overt optics of a candidate doling out money to potential voters.
Illinois State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, a Democrat, tweeted Monday that Rauner and Wilson “should be investigated” for attempting to buy votes.
Welch continued, “Bruce Rauner and Willie Wilson should be investigated for trying to buy votes. This was a coordinated campaign event. Why would Rauner give $100,000 to the effort and conveniently be present to talk about a campaign issue”?
The bipartisan condemnation continued as Illinois State Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican, also took to social media.
“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!”
— Rep. David McSweeney (@1980reagan) July 22, 2018
Perhaps even more bizarre regarding the blatant “cash giveaway” is how the Chicago Board of Elections viewed the apparent bribe, by actually going on the record and stating mayoral candidate Willie Wilson “wasn’t trying to buy anyone’s vote” although he gave out close to $200,000 to churchgoers.
Wilson’s campaign spokesman defended the hand-out insisting that his appearance wasn’t a campaign stop and therefore not related to campaign activities.
The spokesmen also added that a majority of the money came in the form of pre-printed checks that was intended to be distributed to specific people for property tax relief.
Adding that each check had someone’s name pre-printed on it, and people had to show identification.
However, Wilson was also seen handing out cash, directly from his billfold which apparently wasn’t counted, or recorded.
His spokesmen also emphasized, “He gives $100 bills to homeless people every day, he’s been doing this for nearly 30 years. He can be many things at the same time. Many people in public life have many responsibilities, and he’s not giving up his philanthropic responsibilities because he’s running for mayor.”