Wisconsin Ethics Commissioner Robert Kinney resigned Monday after saying his job is essentially impossible to do.
Despite facing skepticism from outsiders when he took the position in July, Kinney believed the agency would succeed. But the Commission did not appear to be working toward its mission, he said in a statement.
“When charges of financial or ethical improprieties are leveled or allegations of quid pro quo corruption are made, they must be thoroughly and timely investigated and, if warranted, aggressively prosecuted,” Kinney said. “Sadly, it appears we have created a system which almost guarantees that this will not occur.”
The Wisconsin Ethics Commission was established as a bipartisan alternative to the Government Accountability Board, which Republicans dismantled in July. The Commission consists of six members, half of whom Republicans select and the other half Democrats. Democrats elected Kinney to his post.
Kinney, a retired judge, said the commission’s rules were too secretive and “shut out” the public voice. He praised the agency’s staff and said the agency needs to be more transparent so people can appreciate its work.
“If the people of the State of Wisconsin could see these people in action, they would be so proud of our state,” he said.
But Kinney also criticized commission members for having an “observable lack of commitment” to the agency’s purpose. He said this kind of treatment could lower staff morale and drive them away from the agency.
Kinney concluded his statement by saying the agency could not function if it is “relegated to shuffling papers.”
Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, said in a statement that it is “unfortunate” Kinney resigned early. But Steineke also criticized Kinney and said there was no better way to fix the “alleged dysfunction” in the commission than through his position as commissioner.
Common Cause Wisconsin Director Jay Heck said it is not surprising Kinney resigned given the Republican influence over the Ethics Commission. In August, commission members denied Kinney’s proposal to prohibit commissioners from making campaign contributions to candidates. Heck said Commissioners themselves are responsible for overseeing campaign finance law and should not be making contributions to candidates.
“[Kinney’s resignation] should serve as a stark reminder to citizens about the deteriorating state of ethical, honest and transparent practices in Wisconsin’s state government over the past number of years — and the need to halt and reverse this trend before matters become irreparable and beyond redemption,” Heck said.
Heck said it is unclear who will take Kinney’s place. As of now, there are three Republican-elected commissioners and two Democrat-elected commissioners.