This is the week that state legislators are expected to start wreaking their revenge on the Government Accountability Board. Plans to replace the agency are in place. A suggested compromise reportedly has fallen on deaf ears. Deals reportedly have been made to move swiftly on legislation, the effect of which most likely would be to pull any semblance of teeth from this watchdog. Of course, Republican legislators pushing this effort say that wouldn’t be the case; that a new agency (perhaps two new agencies) is needed because this one has been too partisan in its oversight of ethics and elections, and that a replacement would be “fair, transparent and accountable to Wisconsinites,” in the words of a spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker. Forgive me if I’m skeptical. And let me add that I have little doubt that more than a few Democrats quietly support this measure simply because no politician really likes a watchdog agency that is doing its job in a truly nonpartisan fashion.
This time around, it’s the Republicans who are loudly unhappy, at least in part because of the GAB’s involvement in the infamous John Doe investigation into whether Walker and conservative groups violated campaign finance laws by working together in recall elections. The state Supreme Court ended the probe, ruling the activity wasn’t illegal because candidates and issue groups can coordinate.
Parts of that investigation may have been overzealous and unnecessary, but the answer is not to replace the board with something that’s merely more amenable to legislators. And let’s at the very least have a full discussion and a healthy public debate over what is needed before making any radical overhaul.