Assembly approves bills to overhaul state campaign finance bill
by Lucas Sczygelski, The Daily Cardinal
Two bills poised to drastically alter future Wisconsin elections advanced through the state assembly Tuesday amid frustration and pleas for reconsideration from the Democratic minority.
The bills come on the heels of the same body’s decision Tuesday to exempt illegal political activity from John Doe investigations.
The first bill dissolves the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board and replaces it with two separate commissions equally represented by political appointees from the two parties.
The GAB, which passed with broad bipartisan support in 2007, was lauded as a potential model for other states and in 2010 was cited as “the best American model” for election oversight by Ohio State University law professor Daniel P. Tokaji. It is made up of six retired judges who enforce campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.
The board authorized a John Doe probe into alleged illegal coordination between conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign in 2012. In July, Walker called for the GAB to be replaced by “something completely new.”
Republicans argue that the board failed to perform required duties and participated in political “witch hunts.”
“While the Government Accountability Board was created with the best intentions, it is time to recognize that our seven year experiment has not been successful,” Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, said in a statement. “The concentration of power was warned against by our founders.”
Democrats protested the new bill’s mechanism for funding investigations into illegal political activity, which runs through the partisan Joint Finance Committee.
“Under what circumstances do you have to go to people potentially being investigated to ask permission for the funds to investigate them?” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, asked.