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Rauner cuts off money flow to Wilson after weekend cash handout flap

Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, speaks to reporters in June. File Photo. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times; Willie Wilson, right, speaks during a press conference last year. File Photo. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, speaks to reporters in June. File Photo. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times; Willie Wilson, right, speaks during a press conference last year. File Photo. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner won’t give any more money to mayoral candidate Willie Wilson’s charitable foundation, Rauner’s campaign said Wednesday, three days after the Republican governor said he was “happy “ to attend an event in which Wilson doled out cash and checks at a South Side church.

“We’re honored to help you pay your property taxes,” Rauner told recipients on Sunday. “Happy to do it.”

But even as the Republican governor moved to distance himself from the nonpartisan mayoral challenger — to whom Rauner has given $200,000 in the last year alone — a common political link surfaced. Rauner and Wilson both employ the same man to help with black voter outreach efforts, according to their campaigns and expenditure reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Wilson and Rauner have faced a firestorm of criticism since the Sunday event.

Earlier this week, Rauner lauded Wilson for his generosity but denounced the cash handout as “outrageous” and insisted he knew nothing about it. Rauner on Monday told reporters “as far as I know” none of the $200,000 he’s given the millionaire businessman’s foundation over the past year to help pay their property taxes was in the cash Wilson handed out on Sunday at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church.

Vetting someone’s property tax woes and issuing them a check to help pay their taxes, “that’s a worthy cause,” Rauner said Monday.

“Just handing out cash randomly to people, I’ve never done that, and I think it’s not a good thing to do,” Rauner said.

And apparently the governor isn’t taking any chances in the future.

“He’s not giving any more money to the [Dr. Willie] Wilson Foundation,” Rauner campaign spokesman Will Allison said on Wednesday.

Despite the outcry after the event, the state’s Board of Elections has said Wilson didn’t break any campaign finance laws if the money came from his foundation, and not from his campaign. And Wilson’s campaign has insisted “we did nothing wrong.”

Rauner and Wilson have described themselves as friends. And both the Rauner and Wilson campaigns are paying the same man for outreach efforts. It’s not uncommon for consultants to be paid to work for several campaigns. Chauncey Colquitt is working outreach for both campaigns.

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Citizens for Rauner paid Colquitt $12,000 in two payments for consulting in late June, with the campaign also paying Colquitt’s The Crescent Group $30,000 for legal services, expenditure reports show. Wilson’s campaign also paid The Crescent Group $9,500 in two payments in late June. Colquitt is the listed agent for the group, which is listed as “Not In Good Standing” with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office.

Corporations are required to file with the state every year, and the standing categorization is often a technicality based on not filing paperwork properly or not paying filing fees.

State officials did not immediately respond to requests for more information.

The Rauner campaign did not elaborate on Colquitt’s role, only saying Colquitt is “not the outreach director for Wilson’s campaign.”

Wilson campaign manager Scott Winslow said Colquitt is a paid consultant focusing on “African-American messaging, what’s going to resonate with different populations.”

Winslow said Colquitt did not help to arrange the Sunday event in which both Rauner and Wilson were in attendance. Rauner in March appointed Wilson to the Fair Practices in Contracting Task Force, which surveys African-American-owned business participation in state procurement, among other tasks.

“Willie Wilson is the chairman of the task force. The governor has his contacts. He doesn’t need a guy [Colquitt] like that [to arrange the event],” Winslow said. ” The governor has been with Dr. Wilson several times. I personally have been in churches with both the governor and Dr. Wilson at least three or four times.”

Asked about Rauner’s decision not to contribute to Wilson’s foundation in light of the controversy, Winslow said it’s “completely” the governor’s “decision.”

“He’s a very wealthy man, and he gives to a lot of things and the decisions of how the wealthy give away their money is not for a peasant like me to comment on,” Winslow said. “The guy is a billionaire and Dr. Wilson is a multi-millionaire.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked to weigh in on the cash giveaways after Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He smiled broadly and followed with a one-liner.

“Amy said how come you don’t do that at home here. No. That’s a joke,” the mayor said.

Turning serious, he said, “You don’t need me to comment on something because a picture is worth a thousand words. It speaks for itself.”

But doing more than commenting, a handful of aldermen — including Michael Scott (24th), Ray Lopez (15th), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Joe Moore (49th) — introduced a resolution urging state and federal prosecutors and the state and city election boards to “investigate the allegations of ‘cash giveaways’ by giving out checks and cash to prospective voters at the New Covenant Baptist Church.”

The resolution was clearly aimed at the governor. It notes that Rauner ran for governor “as an anti-corruption crusader, often accusing others of pay-to-play politics.”

But, the resolution states that Rauner “now insists that he had no idea that Willie Wilson was handing out cash to members of the congregation “despite the fact that the cash give away language appeared in this press release” for the event.”

The Rauner campaign declined to comment on the resolution. The Wilson campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.

Contributing: Fran Spielman