Assembly Republicans unveiled bills Wednesday to double political contribution limits, rewrite campaign financing rules and split the state’s elections and ethics board into two agencies and fill them with partisan appointees. One of the two bills would dissolve the state Government Accountability Board, which consists of six former judges who are responsible for running elections and overseeing the state’s laws on ethics, campaign finance and lobbying. It would create two new agencies — the Elections Commission and Ethics Commission — to oversee those duties. The six-member commissions are to be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) acknowledged an error in the way the legislation was written that would have allowed one party to control the commissions and said that would be promptly fixed. Daniel Tokaji, a professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University who specializes in election law, called the accountability board a model for the nation and said it was ridiculous to turn elections over to partisans. He noted the Federal Election Commission routinely deadlocks because it is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. “Only a lunatic or a glutton for gridlock would want to copy the FEC,” Tokaji said. “I think what they want is a commission that will routinely gridlock and get nothing done.”
Gerald Nichol, the chairman of the accountability board, said in a letter last week and in comments to reporters Wednesday that restructuring the agency 13 months before the high-turnout presidential election would lead to trouble. “I have seen no problem with the way we operated,” said Nichol, a former judge and former Republican district attorney in Dane County.
Fueling the effort to overhaul the accountability board has been the probe by the accountability board and prosecutors into cooperation between Walker’s campaign and conservative groups. The state Supreme Courtterminated the investigation on a 4-2 vote, ruling candidates and issue groups have wide latitude to work together.
GOP lawmakers hope to pass the legislation by the end of the year, giving the state six months to set up the two new commissions. They would take over the duties of the accountability board on June 30 — about four months before the Nov. 8 election.