The head of a government watch dog organization is decrying the actions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who on Wednesday signed bills which will eliminate the Government Accountability Board and make significant changes to state campaign finance laws.
AUDIO: Jay Heck :45
Republicans have maintained the current GAB, created in 2008, was granted too much power. “They concocted a whole series of charges claiming that the GAB was incompetent, that they didn’t do the things that they were supposed to do,” said Jay Heck with Common Cause in Wisconsin.
Once the changes are fully implemented, elections and ethics will be overseen by separate commissions. Members of both commissions will be partisan appointees. “The GAB is being eliminated in its current form, because of political control and really, revenge for the GAB making decisions that angered partisan legislative leaders and Governor Walker,” Heck said.
“What we’ve gone from now is one of the most effective independent nonpartisan entities to oversee elections, campaign finance and ethics in the country, to a toothless state agency that really won’t have any power to investigate corruption, and will be filled with partisan appointments.”
Walker signed the bill in private. Republican legislative leaders, who had been insistent on the need for passing the legislation, didn’t issue any press releases noting the event.
The signing was the final act, in a process that began more than a year ago. In September 2014, Republicans filed suit against the GAB over a newly-designed ballot slated for use in the November general election. The lawsuit, which was dismissed, argued that the new ballot format unfairly favored Democrats and would confuse voters. In October, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, citing the ballot concern, said emphatically that the agency’s days were numbered.
“I promise you that two years from now . . . the GAB will not be in the current format” Vos said during a WisPolitics luncheon in Madison. “It is dysfunctional, it is unresponsive, and it is totally undemocratic.”
Walker also signed separate legislation making changes to state campaign finance laws. Among other things, the changes will allow for coordination between political candidates and “third-party” issue advocacy groups.
“Basically what they’ve done, is their allowing unlimited secret money to be able to flow into our elections, like we’ve never seen before,” Heck said. “The combination of these two pieces of legislation will really take us back to the era of the robber barons.”