Mayor Katie Rosenberg's campaign funded an un-attributed campaign ad
The page was included in the Wausau Events holiday parade; Rosenberg admits it's a mistake
Last week I received a complaint from a reader about a coloring book handed out at Wausau’s annual Holiday Parade. It took a bit to get an actual physical copy of the book myself so I could review it.
The page in question depicted goats and voting, and a button that referenced Mayor Katie Rosenberg’s last name. The page clearly referenced many of the things Rosenberg is known for.
The complaints were two-fold:
Political: The reader believed the page in question constituted an un-attributed political ad, since it advised voting and did contain Rosenberg’s name.
Sensitive material: The cartoon from the ad (a “grotesque” style according to the reader; it appears to be a Robert Crumb-like style, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea) included a web address. Following that web address takes one to the cartoonists’ page. Scrolling down just a bit takes one to a cartoon depicting a woman smoking a bong.
I initially thought the case for it being an unattributed campaign ad was somewhat weak. But it does advise people to vote, features goats (a Mayor Katie Rosenberg meme) and does feature her name on a cartoon campaign button. I reached out to another journalist outside of Wausau, and that person also thought the case was somewhat weak. But as we’ll see, it’s not as weak as either of us suspected.
But what about the drug use? Even someone who has a pretty loose view on marijuana use in general probably wouldn’t think it a good idea to hand kids material linking to a website depicting drug use.
I reached out to Wausau Events’ director to ask about the process of putting this coloring book together, what kind of vetting goes on, etc. The director forwarded it to Board President Peter Valiska, who said he would review the matter. Later in the day, Valiska sent the following statement:
Wausau Events has not received any complaints with regard to the Holiday Parade Coloring Book handed out during the Wausau Holiday Parade on Friday, December 1, 2023. The referenced page was submitted by Mayor Rosenberg’s artist on behalf of the Mayor who sponsored the page. All Holiday Coloring Book sponsors submit their artwork for their sponsored page and Wausau Events then reviews it prior to placement. The Wausau Holiday Parade is a family focused event and the Holiday Coloring Book is for children to have a takeaway from the event. Wausau Events does have a policy of not allowing political statements as part of this event, and will be more diligent in the future when reviewing submitted artwork for the Holiday Parade Coloring Book.
The statement, interestingly, seems to directly address the political nature of the page in the book rather than the part about drug use. In all fairness, someone not paying too much attention might not think much about a URL on a page coming from the mayor herself.
Valiska seems to be implying that the content shouldn’t have been allowed based on its policy of not allowing political statements as part of the event.
But that’s not the first time a political campaign sponsored a page in the book.
I reached out to Mayor Katie Rosenberg on a non-city email address (answering campaign inquiries, which this possibly was, on an official email is a big no-no) to ask whether it was the mayor’s office or the campaign that sponsored the page.
Here is what Rosenberg had to say:
This was the second year my campaign has done a coloring book page in the holiday parade, the first being in 2019. My campaign manager did the leg work since I work during the day but I'm confident it was clear this was for my campaign based on the paperwork we submitted and the check from Rosenberg for Wausau. I didn't actually see what this year's coloring book looked like but I assumed it looked a lot like the proof I have from 2019 where they included my logo and website and disclaimer information.
Which brings up some points of interest. Valiska said it is Wausau Events’ policy not to allow political messages in the coloring book - yet Rosenberg’s campaign in 2019 had already done so.
And based on the Mayor’s statements, it would have been clear to them that this is a political ad, since the check came from Rosenberg for Wausau. That makes it either a new policy or one they just haven’t been following.
But more importantly, that’s likely a campaign finance violation. Campaign ads are required to have attribution on who paid for them per state election law. The previous one did, according to Rosenberg. No such disclaimer existed on this page.
But Rosenberg also regretted the content the website linked to:
I decided to work with TL because of their inclusive messaging, support for democracy, and local art scene appreciation on Instagram. I didn't notice the art on TL's website that depicted drugs. That specific art is not something I would promote to children.
What will happen as a result of this? In terms of the campaign violation, someone (typcially someone from the opposition) would have to file a complaint with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, which operates opaquely: nothing is ever publicly filed as a result of an investigation, despite the clear public interest in such matters. The only way to find out the outcome of an investigation is to speak with the person who filed the complaint, since they receive the copy of the report.
And it’s doubtful much will happen. From what I’ve seen from local campaign violations filed over the years, most of the time they issue a warning. I have yet to cover a local case under the WEC (which replaced the much more transparent and open Government Accountability Board) in which a fine or other penalty was issued.
UPDATE: Updated the paragraph to about material and drug use to more accurately reflect that the material linked to depictions of drug use, not contained said material, as the rest of the story makes clear.
Another case where we reported on campaign violations:
Want to keep up with the story? Subscribe to The Wausonian to get all the updates on local news. And, consider a paid subscription to help support local journalism, keep local leaders honest and to see everything The Wausonian reports on.
Already a paid subscriber? Use this referral link and earn credit toward your subscription when people sign up through your unique link, using the button below.