Just eight years after its creation, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Wednesday that the time has come to end the “failed experiment known as the Government Accountability Board.”
Republicans unveiled a proposal that would make sweeping changes to the agency, which is charged with the oversight of state elections and ethics laws. The bill calls for splitting the GAB into two new commissions, which would have separate control over elections and ethics-related matters. Each of the panels would have six partisan members, appointed by the Legislature and governor.
State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson), a sponsor of the bill, said the changes would allow for more accountable and transparent oversight of elections in the state. However, critics contend the changes will only make it easier to have politics influence decisions on everything from ballot access to oversight of the very lawmakers who put them in charge.
During a press conference, Knudson offered a long list of examples of ways the agency and its staff have failed to follow policies and laws, including not enforcing fines against late campaign finance filings and failing to do regular checks on whether felons voted in elections. GAB director and chief legal counsel Kevin Kennedy fired back at those claims, saying that many of the examples offered by GOP leaders were “just wrong, incorrect, or incomplete.”
“The devil is not the GAB,” Kennedy said to reporters.
Criticism of the agency has grown in recent years after staff became involved in a John Doe investigation, which was focused on what prosecutors argued was illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and third party groups during the recall election. The state Supreme Court halted the probe earlier this year and Republicans have argued the GAB’s involvement was a sign that partisanship has become entrenched in agency operations.
Kennedy declined to comments on the specifics of the John Doe Wednesday, but noted that the Legislature already has oversight of the GAB’s administrative rules, and any decision they make are reviewed and can be challenged in court. Kennedy said any claim that he serves as “prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner” when it comes to state election laws is nothing more than hyperbole.
The bill is expected to move quickly though the Capitol, with Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) also voicing support for the measure. Fitzgerald said in a statement that he’s “proud to unveil legislation that will finally overhaul the obviously compromised GAB and put an end to the long series of abuses within the agency.”