Chicago Dem mayoral candidate hands out cash to voters at 'charity event'
I've got to say this is pretty shameless, even for Chicago politics.
Democratic mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, a millionaire businessman and philanthropist, handed out a couple of hundred thousand dollars to about 2,000 of his fellow churchgoers on Sunday, giving a whole new meaning to the term "pay for play."
Billed as a "non-political" event, the gathering at the Covenant Missionary Baptist church on Chicago's South Side nevertheless also featured Governor Bruce Rauner as a speaker.
But it wasn't about politics.
A Wilson aide said the candidate gave out $300,000 to 2,000 people through his nonprofit charitable foundation.
F. Scott Winslow, a spokesman for Wilson's mayoral campaign, told WGN News that there was no violation of campaign finance laws since the event was not connected to the campaign. He added that Wilson has donated about $500,000 since his campaign launch.
"While he happens to be a candidate, he's been a philanthropist for 30 years," Winslow said.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who is up for reelection in November, also spoke at the event, where he discussed his efforts to overhaul the state's criminal justice system and improve education funding. He briefly discussed property taxes.
"You pay the highest property taxes in America here in Chicago, and the South Side and the south suburbs," Rauner said at the event. "This is wrong. The system is broken and I'm trying to fix it."
State lawmakers from both parties questioned the nature of the event.
These handouts to voters are usually done on the sly in Chicago – envelopes stuffed with cash passed on to aldermen who make sure the "right" people get the money.
There is something almost refreshing about seeing the corruption take place in the open. Openly buying votes used to be commonplace in America. During the West Virginia Democratic primary in 1960, Hubert Humphrey complained bitterly about John Kennedy's campaign handing out $5 bills to thousands of voters. What Humphrey didn't understand is that West Virginia voters expected to be paid for their support.
Even today, the practice goes on. They call it "street money" in Philadelphia:
In Philadelphia, "street money" is cash given by prominent Democratic political candidates to the City Democratic Committee. The City Democratic Committee then gives that money to ward leaders who use it to pay their committee members. Those committee members knock on doors, give voters rides to the polls and participate in other grassroots activities on or slightly before Election Day. The cash pays those ward leaders for their work, plus expenses like lunch or coffee. There is one committee member for each of Philadelphia's 1,688 voting divisions.
That's a lot of loose cash floating around, greasing the rails for Democrats in big cities who use the money to maintain a stranglehold on power. In the end, it works out for everyone. Democratic politicians get elected, where they can enrich themselves even more; the local party machine benefits by cementing the loyalty of voters; and ordinary people get a nice little bonus to spend on anything they desire.
Wilson doesn't have a prayer against incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but Rahmbo won't be in office forever. Wilson is making sure he is part of the conversation to replace Emanuel when the time comes.
Playing the long game is part of the "Chicago Way" as well.