Council says 'no' to public campaign financing idea

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, September 24, 2013

JANESVILLE--A proposal to provide a taxpayer-funded public campaign finance option for Janesville City Council candidates had no other supporters Monday than the councilman who initially floated the idea late last week.

At the discussion's end, Councilman Sam Liebert thanked everybody for their comments.

“I'm ready to move on unless there's anything else,” he said.

Liebert acknowledged it probably didn't help his cause when it became known he and fellow Councilman DuWayne Severson spent the most of any candidate in the last three years: $6,090 and $7,773 respectively.

The vast majority of council members spent less than $1,000 on their campaigns.

Liebert said he suggested the public financing to “level the playing field” so average residents could seek office along with the well off, well connected or retired.

Public financing allows candidates to focus on all citizens rather than just those who have the most money, he said.

Liebert said he needed to spend the money to gain name recognition.

 “My last name isn't Cullen, Ryan, Fitzgerald or Kealy,” he said, noting his family moved here about 27 years ago and is “still pretty new, generationally.”

Public financing gets rid of the perception that big donors influence government, and it also decreases the power of special interests and lobbyists, he said.

“As more and more money infiltrates the political system, as it has in Madison, I think it's good to look out for our own interests, before big-money politics come to Janesville,” Liebert said.

Councilman Douglas Marklein, who raised no money except for several checks from family and friends, noted the council is non-partisan and said, “Shame to anyone who brings politics into this.”

He said qualified residents do not have to spend $6,000 to run for office. Rather, “you gotta pay your dues,” he said.

People can gain experience by volunteering for organizations and on city committees. They can attend council meetings and build grass-root support, Marklein said.

If it is too hard to hit the coffee shops, restaurants and streets and attend forums, forums, think twice before running, he warned potential candidates.

“The hard work is when you get elected,” Marklein said.

Council members are stewards of taxpayer money, and they should not appear to be wasting money on their own campaigns, he said.

Councilman Brian Fitzgerald noted most candidates spend less than $1,000 not because they don't have the money but because they don't want to fill out the needed paperwork once they go over that amount.

“I don't think anyone is discouraged because they can't raise funds,” he said. “All the people I talk to don't want this job, quite frankly, and that's why they don't run.”

Severson noted the folks who wrote America's Constitution were “rather wealthy.”

 “That's just the way it works,” he said. “It's not the perfect system, but it's the system we have.”

Severson noted that candidates who raised less money than he or Liebert got more votes.

Councilman Jim Farrell said he went door to door and “just did a lot of hard work” getting out there and talking to people.

“Anybody who is considering running for city council, I would encourage them not to be deterred by their finances and just know a lot of hard work can make up for it,” he said.


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