Wisconsin Republicans are moving at breakneck speed to abolish secret investigations into political corruption such as one that haunted Gov. Scott Walker, do away with the state’s unique nonpartisan elections board and legalize coordination between candidates and shadowy issue advocacy groups that don’t disclose their donors. The moves come after Republicans were angered by a secret investigation of Walker approved by the elections board that focused on coordination with conservative issue advocacy groups. Republicans deny they’re seeking retribution for the probe, which the state Supreme Court in July ended as unconstitutional. But Democrats and independent observers say the changes will transform the state’s elections and regulatory process, making it more difficult to investigate politicians for wrongdoing in office.
“It’s overreach. It’s arrogance. It’s the arrogance of power,” said Jay Heck, director of the nonpartisan government watchdog group Common Cause in Wisconsin. “These changes in the law benefit the people in power, and it just happens to be Republicans at this point. If Democrats had enacted this same agenda, it would benefit them.”
Walker and Republicans swept into power in 2010, taking control of Wisconsin’s Legislature away from Democrats. Republicans increased their majorities in the Legislature after they redrew political boundary lines following the 2010 Census.
In 2011, Walker and Republican lawmakers joined to effectively end collective bargaining for state workers, a fight that led to protests as large as 100,000 people and forced Walker and 13 state senators into recall elections. Walker survived and used the national attention to launch his short-lived presidential bid this year.