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View from around the state: Elections, ethics watchdog just trying to do its job

— From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As we suspected, a state audit released last week found no major problems with Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which handles ethics complaints and supervises state elections.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the rhetoric coming from Republicans in the Legislature, some of whom want to gut this government watchdog. Citizens of this state need to send them a strong message:


The Legislative Audit Bureau, also a nonpartisan agency, looked at nearly 1,900 complaints filed with the board from 2010 to 2013. The audit bureau recommended that the GAB consistently resolve such complaints in a timely manner and that staff provide the board with the names of people who can work as special investigators if needed, The Associated Press reported.

GAB director Kevin Kennedy, who has become the human pin cushion for GOP lawmakers, said the audit should put to rest criticisms of the agency. And indeed it should. These are small-bore problems — nothing major — and certainly nothing that would require jettisoning the board. In a statement, Kennedy said that the audit showed that the six retired judges on the board are engaged as they review material gathered by staff, not mere puppets.

“It puts to rest any questions as to whether the six board members exercise independent judgment when they make decisions about complaints, investigations and penalties,” Kennedy said.

But even given all the evidence, it’s not likely the partisan criticism of the agency will cease.

Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker, still smarting from what they consider the board’s unfair cooperation with a John Doe investigation into Walker’s campaign, have vowed to make broad changes to the board or disband it and start over.

Either way, those are bad ideas — on par with legislative efforts over the July 4 holiday to neuter the state open records law.

The GAB was created in 2007 with overwhelming bipartisan support. It replaced the partisan-infused state Elections and Ethics boards. The GAB runs state elections and administers state ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws.

Republicans, who call the shots in the Legislature, didn’t like the way the agency conducted recall elections in 2011 and 2012, the design of ballots in 2014 year or the GAB’s role in the John Doe investigation.

But the GAB has performed its duties well and done its best to hew to a strict nonpartisan line. It has become a model for other states, and it would be a grave mistaken to once again allow the partisans to watch over themselves. Legislators who now hold power may desire such an outcome but no citizen should want this.

Tell lawmakers to keep their hands off the GAB.

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