As the Wisconsin State Journal points out, the new setup of elections and ethics oversight was a marked difference from the more independent GAB.
The six-member ethics commission is made up of three Democratic appointees and three Republicans. The Government Accountability Board it replaced was nonpartisan.And Kinney’s scathing resignation letter indicates that the Dems’ fears about what would happen with the new Ethics/Election Commissions are coming true - it is not designed to bring to justice those who violate election laws and the rules of public decency.
Wisconsin Democrats were sharply critical of Republicans for creating ethics and elections commissioners to replace the accountability board. They predicted the new commissions will operate less effectively and -- because they're evenly split between partisan appointees -- will frequently reach gridlock on key decisions.
During the October 10, 2016 public meeting of the Commission a telling vote was taken which, in retrospect, foreshadowed what was to come. As a new agency, we were required to articulate a mission statement. The staff of the Commission hearkened back to Wisconsin’s reputation when it proposed the following as our mission statement:In an updated part of today's State Journal story, it was that inability to require a certain party to follow the law that sent Kinney over the edge.͞The mission of the Ethics Commission is to enhance representative democracy by furthering Wisconsin’s tradition of clean and open government through the administration of Wisconsin’s campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws, and through dissemination of information to the public.͟At the October 10, 2016 public meeting of the Commission, incredibly, three members – one-half of the Commission’s membership – voted to strike from the mission statement the aspirational language, ͞”furthering Wisconsin’s tradition of clean and open government.͟” The handwriting was on the wall….
The non-partisan staff of the Ethics Commission consists of some of the most competent and dedicated civil servants I have had the pleasure of working with. If the people of the State of Wisconsin could see these people in action they would be so proud of our State. In addition, Chairwoman Peg Lautenschlager deserves considerable credit for trying to steer the Commission in the direction of even handed enforcement of the law. But the staff has had to deal with many obstacles – erected by Commission members. To begin with, there exists among several of the commissioners an observable lack of commitment to the underlying purposes of the agency. On top of this, staff are confronted with overbearing nit-picking at virtually every meeting. Over time (if it hasn’t already happened) this disrespectful treatment will erode staff morale and we will lose these talented people. Perhaps that is the goal.
At a time when public confidence in elected officials has been deeply eroded, we should be doubling down on our efforts to enforce campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying laws. When charges of financial or ethical improprieties are leveled, or allegations of quid pro quo corruption are made, they must be thoroughly and timely investigated, and, if warranted, aggressively prosecuted. Sadly, it appears we have created a system which almost guarantees that this will not occur. It would be an enormous injustice to the People of Wisconsin and to the success of our government in serving them if this agency is relegated to shuffling papers.
Kinney told the State Journal he was frustrated by the commission's handling of a complaint by the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee against its GOP counterpart, the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee. The complaint alleged RACC violated campaign finance law when it did not report its financial activities in September, as did other legislative campaign committees.This paralyzing deadlock and “paper-shuffling” is exactly what Robbin’ Vos and the GOP legislative leadership was counting on when they decided to blow up the Government Accountability Board and split it into the Ethics and Elections Commissions. They don’t want these organizations to work for the common good, and want to use these agencies to protect the politicians and connected interests that pay for their campaigns, instead of holding those people to account.
State law requires the commission to debate and act on such complaints in closed session. The commission dismissed the ADCC complaint in last week's closed session, according to ADCC executive director George Aldrich.
And the same mentality goes up the chain to Washington DC and a New York City high-rise, where Donald Trump’s proposed Cabinet and top advisors are filled with “alt-good” hacks, donors and other fools who will make government dysfunctional, and not be able to fulfill its goals of accountability or public protection. This was the point that was lampooned in the opening skit on this weekend’s Saturday Night Live, with a guest appearance by the always-great Bryan Cranston.
It has to be drummed into everyday people’s heads that when you elect Republicans to be governors or president, you also are also allowing crooked, dimwitted hacks to take over agencies, leading to wreckage that harms real people (“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job!”). It’s why Trump should be vetoed next week by the Electoral College, as he has now revealed his absurd choices for White House and Cabinet staff, and one of many reasons to flip numerous Republican governor seats up for election in 2018 (including Wisconsin). The future of effective government in Wisconsin and in America may depend on it.