Starting this June, political corruption in Wisconsin will be investigated through a bipartisan rather than non-partisan board. While Republicans say this is necessary for a transparent government, Democrats say the process will result in “deadlock.”
The Government Accountability Board, a non-partisan board that oversaw government ethics and elections, will be replaced with an elections commission and an ethics commission. Each commission will have six members, three Republicans and three Democrats.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, said it is important for the two entities to be separate because ethics deal with making judgements and elections deal strictly with following the law. She said the two boards will also ensure equal judgement for both sides.
“We are trying to create an opportunity for us to go forward and to have equality regardless of your part — regardless of Democrats or Republicans,” Brandtjen said. “Everyone deserves an equal application of the law.”
Even though it may make sense for elections and ethics to be split, Barry Burden, University of Wisconsin political science professor, said it does not make sense for the boards to have partisan members.
Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said since the new boards have an even number of Republicans and Democrats, neither board will be able to come to a decision.
“It’s an even numbered body, so everything is going to be a deadlock and there will be no solutions,” Hebl said. “The majority has not enabled themselves to avoid any ethical investigations or political contributions by making it a totally ineffective body.”
Brandtjen, however, said the GAB had major problems that needed to be fixed. She said the GAB had too much power, and the new commissions will make new rules that are more fair.
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One of the reasons the Legislature voted on party lines to pass a bill to get rid of the GAB is because Republican leaders felt it was targeting them. Burden said one of the major things Republicans were angry about was how the GAB handled Walker’s recall election.
Brandtjen said the GAB selectively enforced their rules, and had turned into a partisan board that was biased against Republicans. She said the GAB used the John Doe process to go on “witch hunts” and target people.
“The model we had before was not being successful,” Brandtjen said.
But Hebl said the GAB had a “phenomenal reputation” and was a model of good, transparent government for other states in the nation.
Burden said he thought it was ironic that Republicans thought the GAB was biased against them, when most of the board’s members had connections to the Republican side of the aisle.
Five appointments to the commissions have been made so far, two to the elections panel and three to the ethics panel. Each panel will be made up of six members, appointed by legislative leaders and Gov. Scott Walker.
Ann Jacobs of Milwaukee, founder of Jacobs Injury Law, S.C., was appointed to the elections commission by Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. Steve King of Janesville, Republican National Committee member, was appointed to the elections commission March 4 by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
For the ethics commission, earlier this month, Vos picked former Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend. Katie McCallum of Middleton, secretary of the Republican Shilling, also appointed Peg Lautenschlager of Fond du Lac to the ethics commission.
Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the GAB, said in a statement that the GAB will work to continue to keep government accountable during this time of transition.
“We are professionals who care deeply about serving voters, local election officials, candidates and officeholders and the lobbying community,” Kennedy said. “Our commitment is to ensure continuity of service during the transition.”
The GAB will be officially replaced June 30, 2016.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals required the Legislature to replace the GAB, this is incorrect. The Badger Herald regrets this error.