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: 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.

Wisconsin: Outgoing State Elections Director Outlines Next Steps in Transition to New Agencies | WUWM

Two new groups will begin administering Wisconsin’s elections and ethics laws this new year. Gov. Walker recently signed a bill that will dismantle the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board and replace it with two panels of partisan appointees, an elections commission and an ethics panel, by June 30, 2016. Republican leaders insist the Board was not responsive to their concerns. Outgoing GAB Director Kevin Kennedy says he will assist in the transition “The legislation specifically requires that I facilitate the transition to work with the secretary of administration and to be on call to the legislative oversight committees to provide reports on that process,” he says.

Wisconsin: Kennedy, Local Clerks Reject Plan To Dismantle Government Accountability Board | Wisconsin Public Radio

The leader of the Government Accountability Board and some municipal election clerks spoke out on Tuesday against a Republican-backed bill designed to eliminate the agency. State lawmakers want the GAB, a nonpartisan board that now oversees elections and ethics in Wisconsin, split up into two separate commissions dealing with ethics and elections and made up of political appointees. Legislators were taking up a bill to do that on Wednesday. Under the proposal, six retired judges would be replaced with partisan appointees. GAB executive director Kevin Kennedy would also be gone.

Wisconsin: Lawmakers clash on campaign finance law, dismantling GAB | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Lawmakers on two committees clashed Tuesday over bills to overhaul the Government Accountability Board and rewrite campaign finance laws, with the head of the board accusing one state senator of McCarthyism in his line of questioning. One of the bills on a fast track in the GOP-controlled Legislature would eliminate the accountability board — the state’s elections and ethics agency — replacing it with a pair of commissions made up equally of Republicans and Democrats. Another would double the amount donors can give candidates. A third would allow people to use the Internet to register to vote, while keeping in place the requirement that people cast ballots in person or by mail.

Wisconsin: Elections head: Staff has opinions but don’t make decisions | Associated Press

The state elections board’s employees have personal political views but they don’t make any decisions, the board’s director said Tuesday as he tries to stave off Republican lawmakers’ plans to restructure the agency. Conservatives’ calls to overhaul the Government Accountability Board have grown louder following a newspaper story Thursday detailing a former staff attorney’s emails. The messages offered encouragement to an investigator looking into whether Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups. The GAB consists of six retired judges appointed by the governor and their employees.

Editorials: Government Accountability Board – Elections, ethics watchdog just trying to do its job | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

As we suspected, a state audit released last week found no major problems with Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which handles ethics complaints and supervises state elections. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the rhetoric coming from Republicans in the Legislature, some of whom want to gut this government watchdog. Citizens of this state need to send them a strong message: No. The Legislative Audit Bureau, also a nonpartisan agency, looked at nearly 1,900 complaints filed with the board from 2010 to 2013. The audit bureau recommended that the GAB consistently resolve such complaints in a timely manner and that staff provide the board with the names of people who can work as special investigators if needed, The Associated Press reported.

Wisconsin: Audit finds no major problems with Wisconsin elections board | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

An audit released Thursday looking into how Wisconsin’s nonpartisan elections and ethics board handles complaints found no major problems, leading the panel’s director to say it should put to rest concerns about its operations even as Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker plan major overhauls. The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau report was limited to previously confidential records related to nearly 1,900 complaints filed with the Government Accountability Board between 2010 and 2013. The audit had two recommendations: that the board consistently resolve complaints in a timely manner and that staff consistently provide the board with the names of three people who can be hired to work as special investigators. Board director Kevin Kennedy, under fire by Republican lawmakers, said the recommendations were minor and consistent with the agency’s existing practices.

Wisconsin: Kevin Kennedy defends GAB against foes who ‘want to have more control’ | The Cap Times

Gov. Scott Walker has called for the dissolution of Wisconsin’s nonpartisan elections and campaign finance agency, but the Government Accountability Board’s director said that’s a “short-sighted” opinion. Kevin Kennedy also said in an interview on WKOW-TV’s “Capitol City Sunday” that recent suggestions that his agency teamed with the Internal Revenue Service to investigate conservative groups were “absolutely ridiculous.” The GAB has been the target of scorn from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who specifically has mentioned ousting Kennedy as a goal. Vos and other Republicans have been critical of the GAB’s role in the John Doe investigations into alleged campaign finance coordination between Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and an outside advocacy group.

Wisconsin: GOP hopeful Scott Walker calls for dismantling of state elections board | Chicago Tribune

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Monday called for the dismantling of an independent state agency that oversees elections and that authorized an investigation into his 2012 recall campaign. Walker, who launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last week, told reporters following a bill signing ceremony in Oshkosh that he wanted to scrap the Government Accountability Board and replace it with “something completely new that is truly accountable to the people of the state of Wisconsin.” Walker also called for an investigation into the board’s activities. He did not say who should lead the investigation. Walker’s comments come just four days after the state Supreme Court halted a board-approved investigation into whether conservative groups illegally coordinated with Walker’s 2012 recall campaign, saying the groups broke no laws. Republican state lawmakers have been talking for months about reshaping the board, and the Supreme Court’s ruling has only bolstered the calls for change.

Editorials: Little evidence suggests the GAB is out to get the GOP | Wisconsin State Journal

Citing a Wall Street Journal editorial last week, Republican state lawmakers renewed and intensified their claim that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is politically biased and unfairly targeting conservatives. Little evidence supports such allegations. Moreover, GOP leaders are ignoring key facts about the GAB as they try to weaken if not disband the independent and nonpartisan watchdog agency that oversees campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws. For starters, half of the retired judges who serve on the GAB were elected decades ago as Republicans to the Legislature, Congress or district attorney. Only one member of the GAB is a former Democratic district attorney from the 1970s, and he was appointed to the GAB by GOP Gov. Scott Walker. … Now comes a Wall Street Journal editorial critical of GAB director Kevin Kennedy. Citing anonymous sources and some quotes from emails, the Wall Street Journal questioned if Kennedy was coordinating state investigations of conservative groups with the IRS.

Wisconsin: GOP Looks to Overhaul Government Accountability Board | WUWM

Now that the Wisconsin Legislature has wrapped up its budget work, Republican leaders are setting their sights on a new goal — overhauling the state’s Government Accountability Board. It’s the non-partisan board tasked with overseeing elections and political ethics. Its leader, Kevin Kennedy, has have come under fire recently after redesigning the ballot – some believe it gave Democrats an advantage, and for approving a John Doe investigation into Gov. Walker’s 2012 recall campaign. An anonymous article in the Wall Street Journal is prompting renewed calls for change.

Wisconsin: Audit prompts changes at election agency, officials decry budget cuts | Wisconsin State Journal

Wisconsin’s election agency moved Wednesday to make a series of changes in response to a state audit, but leaders said that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget could set the efforts back. “We appreciate the governor’s efforts to streamline the budget, but this could cripple our effectiveness in providing services to voters,” Government Accountability Board director and general counsel Kevin Kennedy told board members. The GAB is one of several state agencies that would see its budget, finance, human resources, payroll, procurement and information technology functions consolidated as part of a pilot program that would be operated by the state Department of Administration.

Wisconsin: Elections board officials defend performance | The Journal Times

Wisconsin election board officials told the Legislature’s audit committee Wednesday that they have been struggling with an unprecedented workload as they worked to blunt a critical evaluation of their performance and save their agency from the chopping block. The Government Accountability Board has been forced to administer multiple recall elections, implement voter photo identification and conduct a massive statewide recount with limited staff during the past four years, the board’s director, Kevin Kennedy, told the committee. “The Government Accountability Board is a Wisconsin success story,” Kennedy said. “I am disappointed that some critics of this agency have used this nonpartisan audit to make political points rather than focusing on how we can work together to maintain Wisconsin’s excellent record and reputation for running elections and transparency in government.”

Wisconsin: Republicans eye rewrite of campaign finance laws, other election changes | Wisconsin State Journal

Republicans, in firm control of state government when they take office Monday, are poised to make the most sweeping revisions to state campaign finance law in decades. Many of those changes are already in effect after a series of federal court decisions made many current laws unenforceable. But a more comprehensive rewrite is in the works, and the overhaul is getting a thumbs up from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board — a frequent target of GOP ire that is itself in line for a possible makeover. Among other things, lawmakers are considering increasing campaign contribution limits and clarifying the coordination restrictions at the heart of a recent John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign. Also on tap: changes to election procedures, including banning all cameras from polling places and testing poll workers on their knowledge of election law. Those changes would come on the heels of a slew of changes adopted last session, including a controversial voter ID law that the U.S. Supreme Court could take up this year.

Editorials: A GOP attack on the Government Accountability Board | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Republicans in Wisconsin have been out to get the Government Accountability Board for a while now — and some of them believe a recent audit of the state’s unique ethics and elections agency may provide an opening. Let’s hope not. The non-partisan GAB, run by retired judges, remains the best model for supervising partisan elections and ethical behavior. The idea of handing those tasks back to the very partisans being supervised, as was the case in the past, is ridiculous. That said, the report by the Legislative Audit Bureau should be taken seriously by the GAB and its longtime executive Kevin Kennedy. The report, released last week, found that officials sometimes waited years to review whether felons had voted and did not promptly audit electronic voting equipment. The board also failed to impose late fees on candidates and political groups that hadn’t file timely campaign finance reports. Those lapses should be corrected. But here’s something else that should be corrected — the GAB’s budget. It’s been squeezed in each of the last three budgets.

Wisconsin: Kevin Kennedy defends GAB, says criticism about audit ‘overblown’ | Capital Times

Republicans have taken aim at Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board and its director and general counsel, Kevin Kennedy, over ballot redesigns and handling of elections, and last week an audit of the group added more fuel. The state’s elections agency fell short in some of its statutorily required duties, the Legislative Audit Bureau found, and did not follow its penalty schedule for enforcing campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws. Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, used that report’s release to call for a “complete overhaul” of the GAB, which she called a “rogue agency.” Kennedy, appearing on a Sunday broadcast of the statewide TV show “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” said criticism of the GAB based on the audit was “overblown.”

Editorials: Keep Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board nonpartisan | Appleton Post-Crescent

The state’s Government Accountability Board is being targeted by the top leaders of the Assembly and Senate. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, has said the board is “dysfunctional, unresponsive and totally undemocratic” and Executive Director Kevin Kennedy is an “embarrassment.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said of the board, “I just don’t think they’re an independent voice at all.” Both Vos and Fitzgerald said they want the Legislature to make changes to the GAB. And both said they’d consider returning to having the board members appointed by political parties. “If we can create a system that has partisan makeup where decisions can be made, of course I’m open to that,” Vos said. Fitzgerald said a partisan-appointed board “seems to strike more of a balance than what we’re up against now.”

Wisconsin: Elections board director defends work, structure, amid calls for overhaul | Associated Press

The nonpartisan makeup of the state board that oversees elections, ethics and campaign finance laws in Wisconsin is its greatest strength, its director said at a meeting Tuesday amid calls from Republicans who control the Legislature that an overhaul is needed. Government Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy defended the nonpartisan structure of the panel, as well as having it oversee elections, lobbying, ethics and campaign finance laws. Republicans are talking about breaking up the board, replacing the judges who are on it with partisan appointees, and other changes. Debate over what to do with the 7-year-old board is in the spotlight following an audit released Friday that detailed a number of problems with its operation, but did not recommend dismantling it or moving toward a partisan structure.

Wisconsin: Republicans seize on audit critical of state elections board | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

A report of the state’s ethics and elections agency released Friday found officials waited years in some cases to review whether felons had voted and did not promptly audit electronic voting equipment. The Government Accountability Board also avoided imposing late fees on candidates and political groups that hadn’t file their campaign finance reports on time. Republicans who control the Legislature pounced on the report by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, saying it provided evidence the accountability board needs to be dismantled. … The board’s director, Kevin Kennedy, said his agency had many successes but had fallen behind on some matters because its resources have been strained in recent years by a wave of recall elections; implementing a voter ID law that has been sidelined by courts; conducting the first statewide recount in more than 20 years; administering newly drawn legislative districts; and responding to litigation on such matters.

Wisconsin: Vos’ attacks on elections, ethics watchdog draw fire | Green Bay Press Gazette

No one in Wisconsin has been more forceful in demanding changes to the state’s Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying, than Robin Vos. The Republican Assembly Speaker has deemed the GAB “dysfunctional” and called its director and general counsel, Kevin Kennedy, an “embarrassment” who “needs to be gone.” His critique has been long on vitriol but short on specifics. Vos likes that the board, which the Legislature created in 2007, is led by six former judges appointed by the governor to staggered six-year terms. But he feels these judges are being manipulated by Kennedy and other staff into serving as “a rubber stamp.” “The GAB judges are not in charge, and that has to change,” Vos said recently. Kennedy, noting in an interview that the board has at times overruled staff, is not aware of any board support for legislative intervention. He considers Vos’ comments “an insult to the board members.” The judges seem inclined to agree.

Voting Blogs: Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law goes through the wringer | State of Elections

Like many other states, Wisconsin has recently enacted a voter ID law. After winning both the state legislature and the governor’s office in 2010 (a wave year for Republicans), the Wisconsin GOP quickly acted to restrict voting. Governor Scott Walker quickly signed the bill, claiming it was about the integrity of our electoral process, saying “to me, something as important as a vote is important … whether its one case, 100 cases  or 100,000 cases.” Voting rights groups, on the other hand, pointed out that in-person voter fraud (what the law claims to address) is exceedingly rare. They claimed that the real purpose of the law was to discourage voting among constituencies which tend to vote Democratic. ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Dale Ho has been at the forefront of the fight against Wisconsin’s law. Ho said that 300,00 or more Wisconsin voters lack the required ID, and that to allow them all to vote 6,000 IDs would have to be issued every day, a practical impossibility. The Advancement Project agreed that getting all the required IDs out would be “mathematically impossible.” While many states are in the midst of litigation over voter ID issues, the Wisconsin case is especially pertinent, since it involves a hotly contested gubernatorial race and could the ID rules in place could sway the election.

Wisconsin: Elections agency asks for nearly half a million dollars for voter ID | Wisconsin State Journal

Saying “there is very little time left to reach out to the public,” the head of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board announced Tuesday that he is asking the Legislature for nearly half a million dollars for a statewide campaign to notify voters that they must present a photo identification to vote Nov. 4. Kevin Kennedy, director of the state’s elections agency, said the money is needed to alert voters to the voter ID law, which a federal appeals court reinstated on Sept. 12.

Voting Blogs: Elections administrators deal with legal decisions | electionlineWeekly

Elections officials across the country are busy preparing for the upcoming November 4 general election. For many, while the days and sometimes nights are busier than normal, it’s relatively business as usual in the ramp up to the 2014 midterm election. However, officials in a handful of states are grappling with recent court rulings or waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop as they await court rulings. Nowhere does it seem have recent court rulings been more acutely felt than in Wisconsin. Last week the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the state’s voter photo ID law and now elections officials, state agencies and colleges and universities are scrambling to not only inform voters about the law, but make sure voters have the necessary ID. The state’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) said at a press conference following the ruling that they are taking “extraordinary efforts” to put the ID law into place.

Wisconsin: Judge dismisses GOP lawsuit asking that the new model ballot be redesigned before election | Associated Press

A judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to force a redesign of Wisconsin ballots just six weeks before the Nov. 4 election, saying the complaint first should have been filed with the state elections board. Republican legislative leaders argued in the lawsuit filed last week that the model ballot is confusing, gives undue prominence to Democratic candidates and makes it hard to tell which office candidates are seeking. They asked a judge to force the Government Accountability Board to redesign the ballots, a move that elections officials dismissed as costly and not practical so close to the election.

Wisconsin: Three Democratic county clerks won’t use GAB sample ballot | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Clerks around Wisconsin from both parties have modified the state’s model ballots for the Nov. 4 elections, raising questions about both the state officials who designed the ballots and about a GOP lawsuit aimed at forcing a costly reprinting of ballots. Clerks from both parties, including at least three Democrats, have found the model ballots confusing, showing that the concerns over them aren’t limited to the Republicans who have sued over the issue. Checks by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday found that most of the state’s urban areas will be using ballots that are more clearly marked for voters than the Government Accountability Board’s model ballot. The biggest exception is in Wausau. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said Friday he had refused to use the ballot that state elections officials had recommended for this fall out of concerns that it was too confusing. Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler said she had similar concerns that the ballot put forward by the accountability board didn’t clearly distinguish for voters between the candidates on the ballot and the offices they were seeking. And La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said she added shading to the ballots to make them clearer. “We try to make the ballot as accessible and easy to read, and that’s why I put the shading in,” she said.

Wisconsin: Absentee ballots already cast will need photo ID, elections official says | Associated Press

Wisconsin’s top elections official said Tuesday that hundreds of voters who have already cast absentee ballots for the Nov. 4 election must show or send in a photocopy of acceptable photo identification to their local municipal clerk’s office for those ballots to be counted. Also Tuesday, plaintiffs in a lawsuit that challenged the voter ID requirement said they plan to appeal the ruling by three judges on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to the full court. That ruling on Friday reinstated the voter ID requirement that had been stalled since 2012 by court challenges. “The panel’s decision allowing this law to take effect this close to the election is a recipe for disaster,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It will create chaos in election administration, resulting in voter confusion and disenfranchisement. The voters of Wisconsin deserve a chance to cast their ballots free of these obstacles.”  Kevin Kennedy, director of the state Government Accountability Board, urged absentee voters to send copies or bring in a valid photo identification such as a driver’s license to their local clerks as soon as possible to ensure their ballots would be counted. IDs can be presented in person or copies can be emailed, faxed or mailed. Kennedy said more than 11,000 absentee ballot requests had been received statewide as of Friday. He said he didn’t know how many had been returned by voters to clerks’ offices but estimated it in the hundreds.

Wisconsin: Appeals Court Reinstates Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law | Associated Press

In a stunningly fast decision, a federal appeals court in Chicago reinstated Wisconsin’s voter photo identification law on Friday – just hours after three Republican-appointed judges heard arguments on reactivating the hotly debated law in time for the November election. In a brief order, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said, “The State of Wisconsin may, if it wishes … enforce the photo ID requirement in this November’s elections.” Wisconsin officials wasted no time in saying they would do just that. “We are taking every step to fully implement the voter photo ID law for the November general election,” said Kevin Kennedy, the state’s top election official. “We are now focused on communicating with local election officials and voters, and will have more information about the details next week.”

Editorials: Another blow to campaign finance disclosure in Wisconsin? | Capital Times

There have long been plenty of methods for corporations, special interests and wealthy individuals to pour money into political campaigns without having to publicly disclose their activity, but recent action by Wisconsin regulators suggests even fewer state political groups will be subject to regulation, at least in the near future. Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, the state agency that monitors elections, recently told a number of electioneering groups — conservative and liberal — that they are welcome to disclose their spending activity and donors, but are not required to. That is a change from previous years in Wisconsin, when, at the very least, groups that expressly advocated for the election or defeat of a candidate have been required to periodically submit financial reports that listed their donors and spending activity. Groups that engaged solely in “issue advocacy,” meaning they did not produce advertising using words such as “vote for” or “vote against,” were not required to disclose. Now, however, the GAB is allowing even groups that engage in a certain amount of express advocacy to forgo disclosure. “We aren’t going to force you to report just because you’re making independent expenditures,” explained Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel for the GAB.