Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday he didn't know a candidate for Chicago mayor planned to hand out $200,000 to churchgoers at a service where the governor also spoke, a scene that prompted opponents to accuse the Republican of trying to buy votes for his own re-election.
Rauner, who's facing a tough fight for a second term this fall, said he learned "after the fact" that Willie Wilson distributed the cash and checks at an African-American church Sunday morning and was "pretty upset" about it.
"I think the idea of handing out cash if you're a candidate for office is outrageous," he said. "It should not happen."
Over the years, Rauner has donated more than $200,000 to Wilson's property tax assistance program.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she was looking into the incident to see if Wilson broke any laws with his giveaway.
For his part, Wilson denies that he participated in buying votes at the event.
"Why are they so afraid of me?" he asked.
Most of the money was given out in the form of checks, but Wilson was also seen handing out cash at the event, which was held to help pay property tax bills.
Critics questioned Rauner's version of events, with Conservative Party governor candidate and state Sen. Sam McCann saying Rauner had reached "a new low." The director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, state Rep. Christian Mitchell, called it "one of the most highly unethical campaign stunts Rauner has ever conducted."
Wilson, a Democratic businessman and philanthropist running for mayor, sent a release to news media early Sunday announcing the 2019 mayoral candidate would give away $300,000 to help homeowners pay "staggering" property tax bills. Video showed him peeling bills from a thick wad of cash and handing them to people as they filed by him.
The Illinois State Board of Elections said Wilson didn't break any campaign finance laws because the money came from his non-profit foundation, not his campaign fund.
Wilson has given out funds for the same purpose in the past, and Rauner said Monday he's contributed $200,000 to Wilson's foundation over the past year to help with the effort. The wealthy former private equity investor said it was his understanding that people receiving the funds are vetted, and the money is provided via check to people who might lose their homes because they can't pay their taxes.
Rauner said he wasn't sure if his donation was part of what was handed out Sunday, but said he'd ask for his money back if it was.
During his speech at Sunday's service, Rauner outlined his efforts to reduce property taxes. He said the pastor at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church invited him to speak, and a campaign aide accompanied him.
Rauner also faced questions about vote buying in Chicago's African-American community in 2014, when he deposited $1 million of his personal funds in a South Side credit union while TV cameras rolled. Rauner said the money was to encourage economic development through small business loans.