The state Assembly has approved legislation that makes major changes to the oversight of elections and ethics issues in the state, although the future of the bill remains in question.
The proposal calls for replacing the current Government Accountability Board with separate ethics and elections commissions, which would be made up of partisan appointees. It moves away from a model established almost eight years ago, which Republican leaders say has failed to bring about the promised nonpartisan oversight of Wisconsin elections.
Democrats describe the bill as an attempt to reduce oversight of candidates and campaigns, which they argue could result in corruption at the Capitol.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) warned that the bill would restore a system that helped bring about the caucus scandal that rocked the Capitol more than a decade ago. The scandal, which eventually prompted the creation of the GAB, was the result of several legislative leaders and staff doing political campaign work while on the job, and resulted in multiple people facing criminal charges. “You’re going to now go back to a system that led to corruption…to legislative leaders going to prison,” Barca warned.
The bill passed on a 58-39 vote. Republican Representative Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City), Warren Petryk (R-Eleva), and Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) joined Democrats in voting against it. It now heads to the state Senate, although Republican leaders there have indicated changes may be needed before they can take it up in that chamber.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said they will wait to see what Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald proposes before commenting on possible changes. “Of course we’ll be willing to listen,” Vos said, “but I’m not going to negotiate in the press when nobody has said exactly what it would take in order for us to get the votes to make this gets to Governor Walker’s desk.”
A spokeswoman for Sen. Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the bill is still being discussed by Senate Republicans.