Cash handout by candidate legal in Illinois, officials rule

SPRINGFIELD,ILL, (ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK)- In a campaign with multiple millionaires and a billionaire running for office, the Illinois State Board of Elections has ruled that a candidate may hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own cash without breaking any elections laws.

The board unanimously ruled Friday afternoon that Willie Wilson, a wealthy Chicago businessman, didn’t break any elections laws during a cash giveaway, which he called relief for the needy to pay rising property taxes. He handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars at a Southside church on July 22.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform filed a complaint, claiming Wilson’s campaign failed to file the money as an in-kind donation since the campaign benefited from his private foundation’s giveaway.

“ICPR has tremendous respect for Dr. Wilson and his philanthropy, and has never wanted to stop his charitable activities,” Executive Director Mary Miro said. “ICPR only wants to ensure that such activities are appropriately disclosed when they are closely aligned with a campaign for public office.”

This ruling was preceded by a hearing officer recommendation that there be no punishment for Wilson’s campaign, saying promotion of the event via political avenues was a mistake.

In light of the ruling, Miro doesn’t expect the wealthy candidates in Illinois to begin handing out cash because Wilson’s event got so much scrutiny.

“I think candidates will think more carefully about participating in those activities and events,” she said.

Wilson has said he plans more giveaways.

The race for Illinois governor is expected to be the most expensive in American history. Combined, Republican incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a millionaire many times over, and Democratic billionaire J.B. Pritzker have raised more than $200 million in their respective campaign war chests.

Rauner attended Wilson’s July event but later said he was unaware of the cash giveaway and condemned it, saying he would inquire as to whether any of the cash came from a donation he made.

In response to the ruling, Wilson’s campaign released a statement saying “Today’s ruling fully exonerates Wilson and restores a stellar reputation that he has built for being a compassionate humanitarian & goodwill ambassador for nearly 30 years.”