The handwriting was on the wall in the fall of 2014, when Assembly Speaker Robin Vos pledged that Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board would not last another two years. Now the GAB is history.
The non-partisan panel of six retired judges grew out of the state’s caucus scandal in the early 2000s. “My fear is that without the impartial judges adhering to the law, and having partisan appointments, we’re going to return to those days,” said Jay Heck, Executive Director with Common Cause in Wisconsin.
The GAB will be replaced by elections and ethics commissions, with members appointed by legislative leaders in both parties – including Republicans who pushed for the GAB’s demise. The new commissions are similar in composition to the partisan panels that the GAB replaced in 2008.
“They didn’t want it to be independent, they didn’t want it to be impartial. They wanted to be able to control the outcomes,” Heck said. He believes the new six member boards have been “set up to fail,” and predicts there will be many three-three ties with no action taken on ethics and elections violations. “Basically, most decisions will have to get the approval of the partisans who appointed these people.”
Republican critics of the GAB characterized it as unresponsive and undemocratic, pointing to a probe into coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s reelection campaign and conservative groups as a case in point. The state Supreme Court halted that investigation.