Wisconsin Republican Legislators Launch Groundless Attack on GAB

July 13, 2015

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal, in an opinion piece, tried to smear Kevin Kennedy, the executive director of Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board.

The Journal has had it in for the Government Accountability Board because it’s been involved with the John Doe investigation into allegations that Scott Walker coordinated with right wing outside groups during the recalls in Wisconsin a few years ago.

So on Friday the Journal used a sleazy guilt-by-association tactic to go after Kennedy. The opinion piece, “Wisconsin’s Friend at the IRS,” links Kennedy with Lois Lerner, the IRS administrator who resigned during the controversy over that agency’s investigation of some nonprofit applications by right wing groups.

But all the Journal could come up with is that Lerner and Kennedy were e-mail correspondents.

“Emails we’ve seen show that between 2011 and 2013 the two were in contact on multiple occasions,” the Journal editors wrote. One email it cited showed them trying to arrange a time to get together. Another, from Kennedy, was about a local Wisconsin paper supporting “more transparency,” with Kennedy pointing out: “The Legislature has killed our corporate disclosure rules.”

There’s nothing remotely wrong or incriminating about these emails.

As Kennedy noted about the article: “It contains no facts showing that I or the Government Accountability Board did anything inappropriate or out of the ordinary given the agency’s statutory responsibilities.”

But that didn’t stop the enemies of open, transparent, and clean government in the state legislature from taking cheap shots.

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) released a statement about the “unethical behavior” at the GAB and alleged that “there’s a coordinated effort to undermine” free speech rights. And they vowed to introduce a bill “to change the way the GAB operates.”

The co-chairs of the state's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee (JFC), State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) also piled on. "It's time for Kevin Kennedy to resign… We have completely lost confidence that the GAB can be trusted to operate in a non-partisan manner for the citizens of the state of Wisconsin with Kennedy in charge. In order for the GAB to return to its original mission, Kevin Kennedy must go."

But they don’t want the GAB to operate in a “non-partisan manner.” They want it to be partisan. And they want to control it.

These are the same legislators who were behind the recent, ham-handed effort to sneak a provision into the budget to shield everything they do from open records requests.

Their baseless attack on Kevin Kennedy is just their latest effort to undermine the institutions in Wisconsin that are essential for clean government.

The Government Accountability Board is nationally recognized as a model, nonpartisan agency that oversees elections and ethics in Wisconsin. It was set up in response to the Caucus Scandal of 2001, a scandal that led to the convictions of the highest elected officials in the legislature from both parties.

We can’t go back to the bad old days when partisans sat on the Elections Board and the Ethics Board, and scandals proliferated.

The Government Accountability Board and Kevin Kennedy have just been doing their jobs. And that’s why the Republican partisans are out to get them.