Early Friday morning, amid outcries of partisan ploys, Assembly Republicans voted to kill an ethics reform bill that had aimed to curb campaign finance and election fraud.
Although the measure has garnered broad, bipartisan support, Assembly leaders and other Republicans killed Senate Bill 1 Friday morning in a private caucus.
"I find this astonishing … after this bill passed overwhelmingly in the state Senate," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. "It's shocking that this would be the result, [and] it shows incredible arrogance on the part of Assembly Republicans."
The Republican vote to kill SB 1 came after Assembly leaders Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, and Majority Leader Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, ignored Democrats' calls to schedule the bill for a full Assembly vote. A handful of Democrats threatened last week to filibuster legislative session if the bill was not scheduled.
The measure would have combined the state's Ethics and Elections boards to create a new Government Accountability Board with expanded investigatory powers.
Democrat and Republican supporters have lauded the bill as an effective way of preventing future corruption, like the 2002 Legislative Caucus Scandal in which five state lawmakers were convicted of misusing their public offices for private campaign work.
According to Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, Republicans' refusal to bring SB 1 to the Assembly floor for a full vote demonstrates the party's lack of commitment to ethics reform.
Republicans, Pocan said in a release, should reconsider their partisan actions before they lead to future corruption.
"Following the largest ethics scandal in the Capitol in our lifetimes, you would think that the Republicans would want to clean up state government," Pocan said. "Instead, the leadership has taken a 'business as usual' approach."
Heck added Republicans' actions could be attributed to their refusal to admit their party's fault in the 2002 scandal. Three of the five lawmakers convicted — including former Rep. Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha, who currently awaits sentencing — were Republicans.
"That's often the mentality when someone's in power — why would we want a stronger Ethics and Elections board to watch over what we're doing?" Heck said, referring to the Republican-dominated Assembly.
Reps. Steve Freese, R-Dodgeville; Terri McCormick, R-Appleton; and Sheryl Albers, R-Reedsburg, were the only Republicans to vote against killing SB 1 in caucus. Heck added others might have been discouraged by Gard and Huebsch to abstain from supporting the bill.
"I think what part of it is, is that they fear Republican leadership," Heck said.
Gard's office did not return calls as of press time, but in a previous interview, Gard's spokeswoman Christine Mangi maintained the speaker's commitment to campaign and election ethics reform.
According to Heck, Pocan will challenge Gard's commitment this week by offering a motion to pull SB 1 from the Assembly Rules Committee. While critics expect the motion to fail, its unlikely passage would bring the bill to the Assembly floor for a full vote.