Statement on Proposal to Disband Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
Now is not the time to scrap our model elections agency.
MADISON – Eight years ago an almost unanimous, bipartisan legislature responded to a real problem with an innovative solution – the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. Today legislative leaders, led by Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), are proposing to disband the GAB and replace it with a system that is a known failure.
A government ethics scandal in 2002 sent legislative leaders from both parties to prison on felony counts. It was clear that the state’s ethics and elections boards at the time were not able to enforce the law. The boards were populated by officials appointed by the leaders of the two major political parties. It is no surprise that the board members were more concerned with representing the interests of the partisan leaders who appointed them than in working together for the good of the citizens of Wisconsin.
It was so obvious the system was not working that every State Senator and 97 of 99 State Assembly Representatives voted to create the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. Every current legislator –Republicans or Democrat – who was in office at the time voted in favor.
In the GAB, they combined the functions of the former ethics and elections boards and added “sum-sufficient” funding for enforcement. With sum-sufficient funding, the board does not have to go to the legislature seeking funds when it needs to investigate potential infractions of campaign finance or lobbying laws – possibly by the legislators themselves.
The best attribute of the GAB is the way board members are selected. The board is made up of six former judges, appointed through a process involving all three branches of government. These checks and balances minimize opportunities for cronyism. Although most of the current members have held partisan positions in the past as Republican officials, they have more recently served as nonpartisan judges, who are experienced in making decisions based on the facts and the word of law.
“Two recent audits of the GAB have found it to be an effective agency which has been limited by an oversized workload and a barely sufficient level of staffing. It is hailed by national elections experts as the top model in nonpartisan election administration. If anything, lawmakers should provide the funding necessary to accomplish the vision lawmakers had when they created the GAB in the first place,” said Debra Cronmiller, President of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
Legislation is expected to be announced today to replace the GAB with a commission with separate ethics and elections boards populated by partisan appointees. Rep. Knudson has gone so far as to say the GAB should look more like the Federal Elections Commission, which has an equal number of commissioners appointed by the two major parties. The FEC is routinely deadlocked by 3-3 votes. The commissioners are barely doing their job. In fact they can’t even agree on what food to serve at their meetings.
“We are headed into a major election year with new voting laws in effect. Now is not the time to scrap our model elections agency and replace it with a proven failure, which at best is fair and balanced, but dysfunctional,” said Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that advocates for informed and active participation in government. Membership is open to women and men of all ages. With 17 local Leagues in Wisconsin and 800 affiliates across the county, the League is one of the nation’s most trusted grassroots organizations. Find the League on Facebook.