Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board was created in the wake of scandal, meant to be an independent overseer of elected officials and those who influence them. Eight years later — after playing controversial roles in the 2012 recall elections and an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign — the board has made enemies of many of the elected officials it was founded to regulate. Now, the board is on course for a sweeping overhaul — or perhaps for extinction. Some fear the coming changes could leave Wisconsin with weakened oversight of those in power at the Capitol. They also could mean the state will have untested elections oversight in 2016, the first presidential election year in which a photo ID requirement for voting is expected to be in place. But critics of the GAB say change is needed because its purported impartiality is a farce. Gov. Scott Walker said last month that the board should be replaced. Walker was speaking just after the state Supreme Court halted an investigation into coordination between Walker’s campaign and conservative groups — an investigation in which the GAB played a key role. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has signaled the Assembly will take up a bill this fall to overhaul or replace the board, which oversees elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics.
… In 2007, the consensus to create the Government Accountability Board was bipartisan and nearly universal. A law creating the board passed the Legislature with just two dissenting votes and was signed into law by then-Gov. Jim Doyle. Deininger said part of the impetus for its creation was the caucus scandal of 2001-02, in which top lawmakers from both parties were criminally charged with illegally running political campaigns out of their state offices.
The GAB replaced two former state boards that oversaw ethics or elections, respectively. The old ethics board members were appointed by the governor, while elections board members were mostly partisan nominees made by lawmakers, political parties or the governor. At the time, many viewed the boards as ineffective or partisan, Deininger said — leading to the consensus to create the GAB.
The GAB is made up of six former judges who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Experts such as Daniel Tokaji, a national elections expert and professor at Ohio State University, say the independence and nonpartisanship of the GAB distinguish it from its counterparts in other states.