Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature plan to restructure the agency that runs elections by the fall of 2016, when Walker hopes to top the ballot as a candidate for president. GOP lawmakers also plan to rewrite campaign finance laws for state candidates to put them in line with recent court decisions. As part of that effort, they are considering at least doubling the amount of money donors can give candidates, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said. Also on the docket this fall is putting limits on the ability of district attorneys to conduct John Doe probes that allow them to compel people to turn over documents and give testimony. The law also gives them the power to bar targets and witnesses from telling anyone but their attorneys about such investigations. The moves come in response to a John Doe probe into whether Walker’s campaign illegally worked with conservative groups. The state Supreme Court last month ruled campaigns can work closely with issue groups, declared the investigation over and ordered prosecutors to destroy evidence they have gathered.
Walker and other Republicans have branded the probe a partisan witch hunt. Prosecutors have denied that. “We know the current process isn’t working as intended,” Vos said in explaining his desire to overhaul the Government Accountability Board, which oversees the state’s ethics and elections laws. “That’s one of the biggest complaints I hear from people. They don’t believe the GAB treats people fairly.”
He said he would like to see partisan appointees have a role in administering campaign finance laws and was considering splitting the accountability board into two agencies.
Some observers are skeptical of the idea. Those overseeing elections should be committed to the integrity of elections, rather than to political parties, said Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine. “My impression is that the GAB is one of the few nonpartisan boards running elections in the country, and it would be a shame I think for an independent, nonpartisan board — which many think of as a model for the nation — to be turned into a partisan board,” he said.