Two cities deny petitions
No campaign finance referendums in Waupaca, Weyauwega
By Angie Landsverk
Two area clerks did not certify the Petition for Direct Legislation from Waupaca resident Dmitri Martin.
Martin, who was a Democratic candidate last November for Wisconsin’s 40th Assembly District, filed petitions with the cities of Waupaca and Weyauwega last Nov. 14.
The petition called for the adoption of an ordinance related to campaign contributions.
The proposal would require candidates running for elected office to only accept campaign contributions from their constituents.
Wisconsin’s Direct Legislation Statute allows voters to require a common council or village board to pass a proposed ordinance or resolution or put it before the public for a popular vote.
The statute requires a petition to have the signatures of city or village electors equal to at least 15 percent of the votes cast for governor during the last general election.
The petition is then filed with the clerk, requesting the attached proposed ordinance or resolution (without alteration) either be adopted by the local governing body or be referred to a vote of the electors.
The petitions filed in both Waupaca and Weyauwega met the requirement for the number of signatures.
However, the clerks of both municipalities did not certify the petition.
Henry Veleker, Waupaca’s administrator and clerk, rejected the petition after consultation with City Attorney John Hart and other colleagues.
In a letter to Martin, Veleker said the city follows state laws in regard to elections, campaigns and financing.
“The petition you have filed is an attempt to change the procedure or plan currently followed by the city and therefore, it is administrative in nature and not legislative, which is required for the petition to be valid. The petition you have filed appears to amend and repeal the law that is currently in effect and followed by the city,” Veleker wrote.
Martin responded in a Dec. 9 letter to Veleker by saying the “petition does not attempt to change a plan currently adopted by the city for financing the campaigns of candidates for elected city offices. Indeed, there is nothing in the city ordinances that pertains to campaign financing requirements for candidates running for city offices. Rather, the proposed legislation would create a local ordinance where none existed pertaining to the financing of campaigns for city offices.”
During a special meeting of the Waupaca Common Council on Monday, Jan. 23, Hart said the petition has not been certified and so the council cannot act on it.
When Mayor Brian Smith, “So why are we here?” Veleker said he wanted to bring what Martin proposed before the council for review and to make sure he had acted appropriately.
“I felt Mr. Martin was not happy with my decision and wanted to talk to the council about it,” Veleker said.
Hart said the proposed ordinance would affect county, school board and state candidates, because it said candidates running for “elected” office.
He said clarification from Martin that it is meant for those seeking city office is not what was presented to the city in the initial paperwork.
Martin said it was in proper form and had the required signatures.
He also referred to a Facebook post, You Tube videos and an article last fall in the Waupaca County Post in which he made it clear he was seeking an ordinances related to those seeking village and city offices.
“The evidence is clear,” Martin said. “This had been the intent of it as people were signing.”
Hart reiterated that Martin’s petition said “elected” offices not “city” offices.
When the mayor said the topic is something the common council could discuss at a future meeting, Hart agreed.
Alderman Dave Peterson said he was among those who signed the petition in Waupaca. He wants to see something go before the voters.
Smith said the petition will not be certified by Veleker, but there will be a full discussion at the council level in the future.
He told Martin to let the city know if he wants to be part of the discussion.
After the meeting in Waupaca, Martin headed to Weyauwega, for its monthly common council meeting, where his petition was also on the agenda.
Patrick Wetzel, Weyauwega’s administrator and clerk, also denied a certification of Martin’s petition.
He cited concerns with the form of the proposed legislation and also whether it was beyond the city’s authority.
The second concern was the same one Waupaca’s officials cited.
James Kalny, Weyauwega’s city attorney, said the proposed ordinance would contradict state statute.
Like Waupaca’s city attorney, Kalny also said the addition of the word “city” into the proposed ordinance was not what it initially said.
Wetzel said there is a lot of interest from local residents in the topic.
Martin said he was not asking to modify or cause a conflict with anything in existence.
He was asking the city to pass an ordinance that would set a geographic restriction.
Like he said in Waupaca, Martin repeated that it was clear to those signing the petition that it applied to local municipal offices.
Kalny said the intent did not match the document.
Martin said corporate and special interests are affecting the campaigns of candidates at the state and federal level.
He said municipalities need to set up firewalls or it is going to get worse.
If communities can begin to model change, perhaps the state also will, Martin.
He told Weyauwega’s council members they could be part of changing campaign finance.
On the basis of Wetzel’s recommendation, the council voted unanimously to not accept Martin’s petition.