Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Denounces Republican Plan to Smash the GAB

“A disgraceful move, constructed on a pile of lies, and a recipe for more scandal”

October 7, 2015

Madison – The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign blasted the bill the Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature just introduced to do away with the Government Accountability Board, the state’s ethics and elections watchdog.

“It’s a disgraceful move, constructed on a pile of lies, and it’s a recipe for more scandal,” said Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

“For months now, the Republican leadership has been issuing one lie after another to discredit this agency,” Rothschild said.

“It’s a lie that the staff was going behind the backs of the judges who govern the agency. The second audit by the Legislative Audit Bureau proves that, as do the statements of the judges themselves,” Rothschild said. For example, Judge Gerald Nichol, chair of the board, wrote in a letter to the leaders of the legislature on Sept. 29: “I can attest that the Board makes its own decisions guided by the law, not partisan politics.”

“It’s a lie that the Government Accountability Board exceeded its authority in the John Doe investigation. It has such authority by statute and by court ruling,” Rothschild said. He cited Wis. Stat. 5.05 (2m), which states: “The board shall investigate violations of laws administered by the board.” And he cited the Barland decision of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which stated that “the GAB has joint enforcement authority with elected district attorneys to investigate violations of the state election laws.”

“It’s a lie that it’s unaccountable to the people,” Rothschild added. “Here’s how the judges on the Board are chosen: First, a panel of appellate judges chooses several retired judges as potential board members to nominate. From that list of nominees, the governor appoints one of the retired judges, and then the state senate confirms the appointment. So there is accountability through each of the three branches of government. And by the way, Gov. Walker appointed or reappointed five of the six current members of the Board, so it’s kind of silly for him or other Republican leaders to be complaining that they’re unaccountable.”

“What this really is about is petty partisan vengeance on the part of the Republican leaders -- and their fevered effort to shield themselves from embarrassing prosecutions in the future,” said Rothschild. “They were furious that the Government Accountability Board actually had the guts to do its job by investigating alleged illegal coordination by Scott Walker, so now they’re kicking its teeth in.”

“What this will lead to is more corruption, and more scandal,” said Rothschild.

The bill would place an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on a reconstituted Elections Board and Ethics Board, ironically modeled after the Federal Elections Commission, which has been immobilized because of its partisan makeup. Even the head of the FEC acknowledges that it is “worse than dysfunctional.”

We had a similar experience here in Wisconsin. “The old Elections Board had partisan members on it, and they blocked investigations into alleged wrongdoing,” Rothschild said. “Sometimes the partisan members colluded across party lines to wink at each other’s wrongdoing. This led to inaction, which allowed the Legislative Caucus Scandal of 2001-2002 to occur, a scandal that brought criminal convictions of the leading Democrats and Republicans in the legislature.”

“It would be folly to go back to those bad old days,” Rothschild said.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is a nonpartisan political watchdog that tracks money in state politics and believes that every citizen’s voice should be heard and every citizen’s vote should be counted.