The bipartisan state Ethics Commission has given a unanimous vote of confidence in administrator Brian Bell. It’s an answer to demands by Republican legislative leaders that Bell resign, for reasons that remain unclear to commission members and chair David Halbrooks.
“I’m confused by it, I don’t think there’s any basis for their position with regard to Brian Bell,” said Halbrooks, a Democrat. “But I still want us to try to do whatever we can, to convey what our message is.”
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has rejected calls from the ethics and elections commissions to hold public hearings on administrators Bell and Michael Haas.
Ethics commissioner Jeralyn Wendelberger said they should hold their own hearing. Let people come in here and say what they think about his performance, and whether it’s been partisan,” said Wendelbeger, a Democrat on the six member panel. Her motion failed for lack of a second just prior to the unanimous vote of support for Bell.
GOP legislative leaders claim that because Bell and Haas worked for the former Government Accountability Board, they have concerns about “partisan influence.”
Bell and Haas were asked to resign by Republican lawmakers after the state Department of Justice released a report in December, that was critical of their response to a leak investigation. The DOJ was trying to determine who gave documents from a secret John Doe probe that targeted Governor Scott Walker’s campaign to The Guardian newspaper. Investigators were unable to determine the source, but said it most likely came from the old GAB – which Republicans split in to two separate commissions last session.
Also on Thursday, the Ethics Commission released some findings from an audit of lobbying practices at the Capitol. Their report says nearly 15 percent of lobbyists apparently worked in 2017 without being properly authorized to do so. Lobbyists and lobbying groups are not named in the report. Bell said that’s because they should be allowed to “present their side of the story.”