Whether Wisconsin’s unique nonpartisan elections board was a failed experiment or was so successful that it became a political target, this much is true: It goes away this week. Targeted for elimination by Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans who control the Legislature, the Government Accountability Board officially disbands as of Thursday. It was the only nonpartisan elections and oversight board in the country. In its place are two new commissions made up of partisan appointees that will regulate Wisconsin’s elections, ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws. Those new commissions look a lot like the partisan panels that were widely disparaged as ineffective before they were replaced by the GAB eight years ago.
Government Accountability Board
Wisconsin: As the Government Accountability Board ends, what’s the future for campaign finance regulation? | The Capital Times
Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, the election and campaign agency that its supporters laud as a pioneering success and its critics call a failed experiment, ends this month after nearly a decade in existence. The board, born in bipartisanship from the state’s caucus scandal in 2001, when both parties ran political campaigns from the Capitol, was the only nonpartisan model of its kind in the country with six former judges appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the state Senate to oversee elections. It was armed with a budget unfettered by Legislative oversight to investigate campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying complaints. Its dissolution on June 30, which came with a rewrite of the state’s campaign finance rules, signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Scott Walker, is a necessary reform to some, but step backwards for others who question whether violations of campaign finance law will be aggressively policed and how citizens will know from where money flows to politicians.
Wisconsin: Joint Finance Committee to consider voter ID education campaign, GAB transition | The Cap Times
The Legislature’s budget committee will meet next week to discuss funding a voter ID education campaign and transitioning the state Government Accountability Board into new elections and ethics commissions. Last month, the GAB requested $250,000 from the Joint Finance Committee to educate voters about Wisconsin’s voter ID law before the 2016 presidential election. The agency has proposed two informational campaigns with different combinations of radio, TV and digital advertisements. One option would also include pre-show advertisements at movie theaters, interior bus ads and sponsored Facebook posts. Gov. Scott Walker approved the voter ID law, which requires certain forms of photo identification to be shown at the polls in order to vote, in 2011.
Wisconsin: Kevin Kennedy stepping down as head of embattled elections, ethics board | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The head of the state’s embattled ethics and elections board will retire June 29, one day before the agency is set to be replaced by two new commissions. Kevin Kennedy, 64, has served as the director of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board since it was created in 2007. Before that, he was the longtime director of its predecessor, the state Elections Board. In all, he has worked on elections for the state for 37 years. In an interview Tuesday, Kennedy said he had wanted to retire in 2017 so he could preside over his 10th presidential election. But with the Legislature’s decision to dissolve the accountability board next month, Kennedy said he had decided to step down and told the board that on Sunday. “I’ve always lived, particularly with the GAB, with the knowledge that each day I’m auditioning for my job, that there’s a sword of Damocles hanging over my head,” said Kennedy. Lawmakers from both parties created the accountability board in response to a scandal in which lawmakers were convicted of campaigning using state resources. Critics said officials didn’t crack down on the practice sooner because ethics and campaign finance laws were overseen by separate agencies.
Wisconsin: Government Accountability Board Director Calls Walker’s Comments On Voter ID Law ‘Disingenuous’ | Wisconsin Public Radio
The director of the Government Accountability Board called Gov. Scott Walker’s recent comments about funding a voter ID public education campaign “disingenuous” on Wednesday. In a 4-2 decision, the board voted Tuesday to ask for money from the state Legislature to fund a statewide campaign to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable at the polls. Walker addressed the funding request on Tuesday, saying that the high turnout during the April 5 primary demonstrates the funding is unnecessary. Moreover, the governor said the state has already spent too much money defending the law in court.
A government computer system crash caused headaches for Wisconsin election clerks trying to access voter registration information on Friday, the last day residents could turn in absentee ballots. The Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections, said it also received calls from a handful of residents who said they couldn’t obtain a driver’s license or state identification card. Residents will be required to show a photo ID before voting during Tuesday’s primary elections. The GAB said the outage lasted roughly three hours, beginning at 8:45 a.m. The state Department of Transportation said it wasn’t clear how many people weren’t able to get IDs because of the computer problems. GAB attorney Mike Hass said his agency received several calls about the outage, but said only a handful of people were affected.
The first announced appointee to a new state elections commission is an attorney specializing in injury and election law: Ann S. Jacobs of Milwaukee. Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse announced the appointment Wednesday. The new elections commission is poised to assume some of the duties of the Government Accountability Board, which is on course to be abolished by a newly enacted law. Jacobs is founder of Jacobs Injury Law in Milwaukee, according to her LinkedIn page. Jacobs also has a background in election law, according to her resume, provided to the Wisconsin State Journal by Shilling’s office. She is training director for Wisconsin Election Protection, a voting rights group, and has lectured and written articles on election law for the state and Milwaukee bar associations.
Wisconsin: State GOP secretary is first appointee to new ethics commission | Wisconsin State Journal
The first announced appointee to the new state ethics commission is the secretary of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, state officials said Tuesday. Critics said the appointment of Katie McCallum confirms their fear that the commission and its new counterpart, which will oversee elections, will be beholden to legislative leaders and partisan interests. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, appointed McCallum, of Middleton, said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board.
Wisconsin: Clerks fear loss of support after Government Accountability Board dissolves | Kenosha News
As Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board enters its last election cycle, some local clerks are hoping that at least some of the agency’s functions remain in place. Republican legislators led the effort to eliminate the board, replacing it with two new agencies: an elections commission and an ethics commission. The GAB will dissolve on July 1, the two new agencies taking over the board’s duties. While the legislative focus of the change was on campaign finance laws, some local clerks are worried about whether the training, election support and legal advice for clerks now handled by the GAB will remain in place.
A nonpartisan attorney for the Legislature and one of the state’s foremost experts on campaign finance law are disputing a contention by the state’s elections agency that political parties don’t have to publicly disclose contributions they receive from corporations. It is the latest incident in which conclusions of the state Government Accountability Board have been disputed. Frustrated with the agency, Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have approved dissolving the agency this year and replacing it with two new commissions. “This is just another clear example of why the Government Accountability Board needs to be replaced,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Friday.