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Local Ministers Offered Cash To Support Scott Lee Cohen

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Independent candidate for Illinois Governor, Scott Lee Cohen

Scott Lee Cohen announces he is running for Illinois governor as an independent on May 3, 2010. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Asking for political support happens all the time. Trying to buy it is something else. Some Chicago area ministers say that’s what happened at a meeting earlier this week with independent gubernatorial candidate Scott Lee Cohen. CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports.

Two ministers say the offer was made by a Cohen supporter and by someone who worked for the campaign in the past. It was simple, they say, throw their support behind Cohen at a news conference and they would get cold, hard cash in return.

Chicago minister Rev. Gregory Lee says he’d never had an offer quite like it before.

“It was in the form of cash,” he said.

On Tuesday, while attending a meet-and-greet with independent candidate for governor Scott Lee Cohen, Lee says one of Cohen’s supporters and a one-time campaign worker told him Lee would get at least $500 if he publicly backed Cohen. Lee says it seemed to him that the worker was trying to buy his support.

“It seemed that way to me, that’s why it didn’t really sit very well at all,” said Lee.

Lee, who currently heads the music ministry at Chicago’s Sun Rise Missionary Baptist Church, says he turned it down. But he says he’s heard that similar offers – on behalf of other candidates – have been made to ministers in the past.

“I’ve heard it in the air, if you will, on the streets, that things have happened on this nature before, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it personally,” said Lee.

Lee says it bothered him because “it was blatant.”

Blatant to Lee. But Cindi Canary, who heads the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, isn’t surprised.

“I think it’s quite common,” she said. “It usually isn’t quite that bald where somebody might be offered some cash for an endorsement. It’s usually a much more subtle transaction.”

And, she says, depending on the circumstances, it isn’t always illegal either. But it doesn’t make it right.

“An endorsement should be like somebody’s personal Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and you don’t buy a Good Housekeeping seal,” said Canary.

CBS 2 spoke with Reverend James Jones by phone, since he was out of town, who said he received the same offer.

A spokesperson for the Cohen campaign says they were unaware of the offers, adding, “The Cohen campaign did not authorize any financial commitments to the group.”

Cohen did not want to talk on camera.

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