October 22, 2015

Reforming the GAB, John Doe, and Campaign Finance

This week Assembly Republicans have continued to enact our Fall Agenda with the passage of three major bills aimed at protecting the First Amendment. Assembly Bills 68, 387, and 388, which reform John Doe proceedings, modernize campaign finance laws, and reorganize the Government Accountability Board respectively, all passed the State Assembly this week.

Wisconsin’s John Doe laws badly needed reform. In oral arguments, Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals described aspects of the currents laws as “screamingly unconstitutional.” Previous John Doe proceedings were open-ended, secretive, and allowed for an overreach of judicial powers. Wisconsin’s John Doe laws allowed judges to act as pseudo-prosecutors, and investigate and interrogate suspects for crimes with questionable evidence, without ever pressing charges. These investigations could be conducted without probable cause, and could continue indefinitely, even if charges are never filed. Furthermore, a suspect or a witness in a John Doe case would be held under an unconstitutional gag order, which would prohibit them from telling anyone what happened; leaving their friends and neighbors to wonder about what horrible crime they were suspected of. Wisconsin is the only state in the nation where these kinds of intrusive investigations are legal. In fact, AB 68 provides important protections and ensures accountability in John Doe proceedings by establishing time limits, requiring the costs of such proceedings to be publicly available, and by replacing one judge with a jury of a suspect’s peers. AB 68 brings Wisconsin’s John Doe laws in accordance with the State Constitution and the Constitution of the United States and helps guarantee Wisconsin citizens fair, transparent, due process.

Opponents of AB 68 argue that the bill is an attempt by Assembly Republican’s to exempt politicians from John Doe investigations. This is simply not true. This bill protects the first amendment by allowing the expression of thought without fear of attack by unchecked, partisan District Attorneys. Under the bill, a crime is still a crime, and any corruption in politics can still be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Using a grand jury in lieu of a John Doe ensures each and every Wisconsinite – including politicians - receives the due process promised to them by the Constitution.

We also passed Assembly Bill 387, which reforms Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws in an attempt to modernize them and bring them into accordance with recent Supreme Court decisions. Before AB 387’s passage on Wednesday, Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws were a mess. The US Court of Appeals described them as “labyrinthian,” “difficult to decipher,” and “obviously unconstitutional.” Because of this, the State Legislature must move to bring our laws into accordance with the Constitution of the United States.

Finally, AB 388 reforms the Government Accountability Board. The current GAB has proven to be incapable of enforcing the laws it was designed to enforce. Since its inception in 2007, the GAB has failed to complete its duties in 16 elections. Its failures include neglecting to remove felons from voter rolls, and ignoring its responsibility to audit electronic voting equipment. The GAB’s failures have watered down each Wisconsin’s citizen’s most fundamental right – their right to vote.

AB 388 replaces the “nonpartisan” GAB with a truly bipartisan GAB, with 3 members appointed by both Democrats and Republicans. Wisconsin’s experiment with non-partisanship has unequivocally failed. In fact, no other state has adopted this model. Bipartisanship will ensure that each side of the aisle is properly represented and, when necessary, can keep the other side in check.

I am proud to have voted for these three bills. I encourage you to follow the State Assembly for the rest of the fall as we continue to move Wisconsin forward.

Rep. August Speaks on Behalf of John Doe Reform

Click the photo or the link below to watch my speech in favor of John Doe reform from the Assembly floor during debate on the bill.



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