By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Members of the newly created commission to regulate ethics and campaign finance laws for Wisconsin office holders and lobbyists continued their organizational work Thursday with the simplest of tasks: deciding on a name.
Weightier decisions aren’t far off.
The Wisconsin Ethics Commission — the name board members selected — was created by the Republican-controlled Legislature as one of two groups to replace the Government Accountability Board starting on June 30. The Legislature, along with Gov. Scott Walker, tired of the nonpartisan GAB’s work, specifically its involvement in an investigation into Walker and conservative groups that was deemed unconstitutional last year by the state Supreme Court.
Unlike the GAB, which was compromised of nonpartisan judges, the two new commissions are comprised of an equal number of Republican and Democratic appointees. Democrats and government watchdog groups fought against the changes, saying the evenly divided membership will be ineffective and result in nothing but stalemates, similar to the Federal Elections Commission.
The partisan divide of the new Ethics Commission was evident Thursday, with the two Republican appointees — former Assembly Majority Leader Pat Strachota and Wisconsin Republican Party Secretary Katie McCallum — sitting at one table and the two Democrats at another. They are former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and Milwaukee attorney David Halbrooks, a former chairman of the partisan Elections Board that preceded the nonpartisan GAB.
Walker on Thursday named the two final appointees, both former judges, to the commission. They are Mac Davis, a former GOP state senator and Waukesha County circuit judge, and Robert Kinney, a reserve judge who spent more than 30 years as an Oneida County circuit judge.
Davis was nominated by Republican legislative leaders and Kinney by Democrats.
The commission doesn’t yet have an administrator. The names and hometowns of the 23 applicants were released by the GAB on Thursday, but not their resumes or any other background information.
Among the applicants was Paul Dauphinais, the head of Alaska’s Public Offices Commission, Bre Injeski, Deputy Director of New York City’s Conflict of Interest Board, and Tim Samuelson, assistant Attorney General with the Wisconsin Department of Justice who heads the Medicaid fraud and elder abuse unit.
With the Aug. 9 primary and Nov. 8 presidential election looming, the new Ethics Commission will have little time to ease into the transition. A sign of the pressure it faces came at the meeting with a request from attorney Mike Wittenwyler, who represents groups and individuals on issues related to Wisconsin’s campaign finance, election law, ethics and lobbying regulation.
His clients are “champing at the bit” for guidance on the laws that took effect in January, Wittenwyler told commission members.
“With the election coming up in November, there’s going to be a lot of activity,” he said.
Kennedy urged Wittenwyler to submit a memo of issues for staff to start reviewing so that the commission can take action after it is officially created in three weeks.
Members spent their time Thursday talking about what names they want on official correspondence and interviewing staff in a closed session.
They delayed a coin flip to determine whether a Republican or Democratic appointee would serve as chair.
“We really want WisconsinEye here for that ceremony,” Kennedy said, referring to the network dedicated to public affairs broadcasting.