By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ criticisms of the nonpartisan board overseeing Wisconsin elections, campaign finance and ethics laws were “just not true,” the chairman of the board said in a letter made public Monday.
Government Accountability Board Chairman Gerald Nichol sent the letter to Vos, a Republican, last week. It comes as Republicans who control the Legislature are looking at overhauling the makeup and function of the board, partly in response to anger over its role in the John Doe investigation that looked into alleged illegal activity by Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and conservative groups.
While the Legislature has the right to make whatever changes it wishes, “the public debate about the GAB’s future should be based on the agency’s true record of accomplishments, not on unsubstantiated allegations,” Nichol wrote in the letter dated Jan. 22.
A spokeswoman for Vos said he was not immediately available to comment.
Nichol wrote in response to comments Vos made in a television news report where he said that staff at the GAB hired investigators to do work on the John Doe probe without the knowledge of the six judges on the board.
Nichol, a member of the board since its creation in 2008, said that he and the other judges are closely involved in overseeing all activities of staff.
“And I can assure you that the staff has taken no action in these matters without the Board’s full knowledge and prior approval,” Nichol wrote. He also generally defends the board’s actions in the letter, saying it does not undertake investigations lightly but when presented with “hard evidence that the law has been violated,” it must act.
“We do not undertake investigations lightly, and do not participate in fishing expeditions or partisan witch hunts,” Nichol wrote.
The investigation involving Walker’s recall campaign is on hold, with three separate lawsuits pending before the state Supreme Court. Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the targeted conservative groups, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a federal lawsuit it brought alleging that the investigation was a violation of its constitutional free-speech rights.
Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, is working on a bill that he’s said would create a hybrid board including nonpartisan appointees as well as partisan ones. The former Elections Board, which was widely panned as ineffective before being replaced by the GAB, was comprised of partisan appointees.Follow @sbauerAP