By Shereen Siewert

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission found probable cause this week that Mayor Robert Mielke violated state law when sending out a campaign-related message to thousands of households and businesses at taxpayer expense.

Mielke described the action as an “honest mistake.”

In a statement issued Friday, Mielke said he agreed to settle the matter by paying a $100 fine.

Mielke’s challenger in the mayoral race, Katie Rosenberg, filed the notarized complaint in January.

Rosenberg alleged in her complaint that Mielke violated a statute commonly referred to as the “50-piece” rule, which prohibits elected officials from using public funds for the cost of materials or distribution for 50 or more pieces of substantially identical material during the campaign season.

The rule is one of several in place to ensure elected officials do not use public funds to further their campaigns.

At issue is the “Mayor’s Message” in the Wausau City Winter 2020 newsletter, which residents and businesses received earlier this week — during the campaign season. On the front page, Mielke’s message contained “substantially similar content to his campaign messaging,” much of which is nearly identical to his September 2019 campaign kickoff speech, which was held at City Hall.

In all, about half of the message mailed to residents at taxpayer expense closely mirrors the mayor’s campaign kickoff speech.

“Going forward, during the rest of the election season, I will assign a staff member to write any further messages or correspondence to avoid any further issues,” Mielke said.

A similar letter was sent to 81 recipients on city letterhead in February, according to the results of an open records request filed by Wausau Pilot and Review last week. That letter was signed by Mielke, but city officials said the letter was distributed by Economic Development Director Chris Schock.

“The violation was completely unintentional, but I accept the responsibility of my mistake and I do sincerely apologize,” Mielke said.