As Thanksgiving approaches, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) wants to carve up the agency that oversees ethics and elections in Wisconsin. Critics seem to view it like getting years-old turkey out of a basement freezer.
Vos’ plan, backed by Gov. Scott Walker, would replace the six retired appeals court judges now sitting on the Government Accountability Board with two bipartisan commissions dominated by politicians. Unlimited funding for investigations would be eliminated, and the governor would get to appoint the top staffer on each commission.
The speaker is angry about the GAB’s role in the John Doe investigation into the coordination between Walker and conservative groups during the 2012 recall election. Vos called it an “unconstitutional investigation.”
“As they went through the process, they did some things I think were patently wrong,” Vos contends. The Legislature created the GAB in 2007 to replace the State Elections Board and the State Ethics Board in the aftermath of the 2001-’02 scandal that involved legislative leaders of both parties. Former State Sen. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) is generally given credit for the GAB idea.
The GAB officially began work in January 2008.
Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, called the proposed changes “petty vengeance on the part of Republican leaders,” adding that it is a fevered effort to shield themselves from embarrassment and prosecution in the future.
Vos calls the GAB “a failed experiment.” He touts his plan as following the general model of the Federal Elections Commission and of other states.