Republicans and Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature are snarling about 3 bills that propose the dissolution of the state’s Government Accountability Board (GAB). The board currently oversees the state’s election and campaign finance laws.
The bills call for the Board to be axed and replaced with two separate entities — an elections commission and an ethics commission. Currently, the board is nonpartisan and comprised of 6 former judges appointed by the governor from nominations submitted by a committee of sitting appeals judges.
The proposed legislation calls for members of the two new commissions to be chosen by ranking members of the state legislature, such as the Senate majority leader and the speaker of the Assembly. Control of both committees would also be split between Republicans and Democrats.
While many citizens are concerned with issues like corruption and independent contributions to political campaigns, a notable provision of one of the bills doubles the limit on donations to political campaigns. The legislation also calls for the elimination of the state’s “John Doe” probes, which allows prosecutors to conduct campaign finance investigations in complete secrecy.
The move to remove the GAB began when some Republican lawmakers claimed the board unfairly targeted conservative groups following a recall of the 2011 election results. Proponents of the legislation argue that the bills would do away with a crooked organization. Republican state Senator Leah Vukmir states, “It was naïve to think that you could have a nonpartisan board.”
Proponents also cite the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision regarding the GAB’s investigation of Scott Walker’s presidential campaign as justification for the reforms. The court refused to rule on the legality of the contributions investigated by the GAB, focusing mainly on the constitutionality of the Board conducting secret investigations. The court found the practice to be unconstitutional.
Opponents argue that the proposed legislation would allow politicians to be the arbiters of their own wrongdoings. Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca says, “These bills take us in the exact wrong direction–turning our nationally-respected watchdogs into partisan lapdogs and allowing corporations to have even more influence over Wisconsin.”
While there are no signs of agreement, legislators will have to come to a consensus on whether or not the state’s Government Accountability Board fairly conducts investigations and formulates campaign finance laws that are reasonable and beneficial to the citizens of Wisconsin.