Mayoral hopeful Willie Wilson’s habit of handing out wads of cash on the street has come under more scrutiny.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan ordered the philanthropist to provide additional information about his foundation’s spending by Aug. 23.
“Every year charities have to file an annual report with financial information. If a charity has a certain amount of money coming in, they have to provide us with an audit of their annual report,” said Maura Possley, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Attorney General.
Although Possley said the audit form doesn’t amount to an investigation, she acknowledged that the office has concerns.
“I don’t think of it as an audit. But they need to be fully compliant with our process. We have some questions. If he is giving money from his foundation, that is a perfectly legal thing to do. We just have to make sure everything is accounted for,” Possley said.
Madigan’s office raised questions about Wilson’s $200,000 giveaway at a South Side church last month before Chicago aldermen passed a resolution requesting that she and the Cook County State’s Attorney launch an investigation, Possley said.
But that handout at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church wasn’t the first time Wilson had stepped up to help homeowners behind on their property taxes keep their homes out of the hands of tax buyers.
And in 2016, Wilson went to Cook County Jail to bail out inmates accused of misdemeanor crimes.
He called that project the “Good Samaritan Bond Pilot Project,” and he spent at least $50,000 of his own money to bail out 107 people in time for Thanksgiving.
But now, with 10 people trying to unseat Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Wilson’s philanthropy is seen as a threat.
This time, critics accused Wilson, who is widely known in church circles for his generosity, of buying votes—especially since Gov. Bruce Rauner was also at the July event.
Wilson has denied that the giveaway was a vote-buying scheme.
He says he will address the issue in more detail at a press conference Thursday, but plans to move forward with another property tax assistance event on Sept. 1.
If that happens, it would put him at odds with the one political adviser in his camp that knows just how nasty politics can get.
“I’m going to support Dr. Wilson all the way, but we need to hold up on the giving because of the audit,” said Ricky Hendon, a former Illinois legislator turned political consultant.
Hendon added that those hurt by the scrutiny are “people who don’t have anything.”
Wilson met with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) on Monday and defended his philanthropy.
The watchdog group had filed a complaint against Wilson with the state elections board, arguing that Wilson should have reported the $200,000 giveaway as an “in-kind” contribution.
After the meeting, Hendon suggested the ICPR didn’t have a problem with what Wilson did as long as the money came from the foundation and Wilson’s “personal pockets”—and not his campaign funds.
“They realize a lot of blacks give stuff. As long as we have a firewall, they are OK with it,” he said.
Even so, Mary Miro, Executive Director of ICPR, said that group is moving forward with a hearing next week on the complaint it filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“We had a very productive meeting with Willie and his team to discuss the events that transpired that prompted the complaint,” she told me.
“We believe and affirm that Willie is a charitable person. He is really trying to support his community, but there needs to be a wall between the two things,” Miro said, referring to the foundation and the campaign.
“We are in agreement that those sort of rules need to be adhered to if he wants to do a school-supply giveaway or another giveaway with in-kind materials,” she added.
If Wilson wants a seat at the table, he has to play by the table rules.
But if these watchdogs are so concerned about propriety in politics, what about all the giveaways that rain down in the form of grants and contracts during the election cycle?
That’s not personal wealth incumbents are giving away. That’s taxpayer money.
And for what?