A new state audit shows a number of problems at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the agency that oversees the state’s election, campaign finance, lobbying, and code of ethics laws. The report by the state Legislative Audit Bureau could provide more fuel for efforts to overhaul the agency, which Republicans have indicated they hope to do next year.
The audit found that GAB staff did fulfill many of its required duties, including the training of municipal clerks and working to improve polling place accessibility. However, it also shows staff failed to complete other duties “in a timely manner,” which included mandated post-election reviews to determine if felons voted in an election and audits of electronic voting equipment. According to the report, “from February 2010 through April 2014, GAB’s staff did not conduct 16 statutorily required post-election reviews to identify individuals with ongoing felony sentences who may have voted.”
The audit also showed the GAB falling behind on promulgating, amending or removing several administrative rules. It also found staff failed to regularly provide the retired judges who oversee the board with complete information on their enforcement efforts and that the agency lacked a written procedures for considering complaints.
In a statement, GAB director Kevin Kennedy defended the agency, noting that the audit found “problems with the GAB’s financial accounting or spending, and called for no significant changes regarding the core duties and performance of the Board or its staff.” Kennedy also pledged that they are “committed to implementing LAB’s recommendations to bring the agency into full compliance with statutory requirements and further improve its operations.”
Republican lawmakers pounced on the audit shortly after its release, with state Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), co-chair of the Legislature’s Audit Committee, saying he is “troubled by the numerous findings,” and noting that “the GAB has simply not performed required duties that they are obligated to do, by law. There needs to be answers for the blatant disregard of state statutes.”
State Representative Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem), the other co-chair of the panel, said she was “angry and disappointed with the findings of this audit, adding that the “agency has inspired outrage with its inconsistent penalty assessments and failure to comply with state statute.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the audit was not surprising. “We know that the GAB routinely doesn’t follow the law and there’s no accountability whatsoever. The audit is another illustration of why we must change the GAB,” Vos said in a statement. He added that efforts are already underway to draft legislation to reform the agency.
The Government Accountability Board was created by the Legislature in 2007 to serve as a non-partisan agency to oversee elections in the state, replacing the former State Elections Board. The board is made up of six retired judges, who are appointed to six-year terms by the governor. The agency has been a frequent target of criticism from lawmakers.