The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is on the verge of extinction as lawmakers in Madison push through a reform plan that splits the agency into two new commissions, one focused on ethics enforcement, and the other focused on election administration. Here are 15 reasons why lawmakers have become fed up with the GAB’s dysfunction and its bungling of ethics enforcement and election management.
Make no mistake, however, Wisconsin isn’t about to become a Wild West for ethics or elections. The twin commissions will have power combined with new budgetary constraints and increased accountability to elected officials – and thus taxpayers – to carry out their mission.
1) GAB employees helped drive 2011, 2012 Recall Elections
GAB Executive Director Kevin Kennedy told the Isthmus in late 2012 that GAB employees were among those who helped spark and lead the tumultuous recall elections that followed the enactment of historic public sector labor union reforms. “They are state employees, and their benefits were being taken away. In addition to having to do their jobs and with a growing workload, they were a part of what was driving all this,” Kennedy said.
2) GAB expected employees to have partisan approach to job
When WisPolitics asked Kevin Kennedy about the GAB’s staff he dismissed previous political activity saying, “Everyone has some kind of past.” The publication went on to report, “Kennedy defended the staff, noting it’s unreasonable to expect no political past or connections from those interested in working for an agency that is deeply involved in politics.”
3) GAB employee mocked Republican Senator on Twitter
GAB employee David Beurger, an election specialist, in 2011 mocked a Republican state Senator via his personal Twitter account, praising a liberal blogger’s assessment that Sen. Mary Lazich is “crazy.” The MacIver Institute discovered the incident.
4) GAB official Jonathan Becker is an “Unbending” Liberal
As the division administrator for the Ethics Division at the GAB, Jonathan Becker is one of the agency’s top employees. He’s also a flaming liberal who once served on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. In 1999 the CapTimes described Becker as “one of the County Board’s leading liberals,” who is “known for his unbending progressive beliefs.”
5) GAB lawyer Shane Falk attacked individuals GAB investigated
Speaking at a confab of liberals in Madison, Falk, shortly after he left the GAB’s employment, publicly complained about one of the individuals he investigated as part of the GAB’s effort to harass conservative groups and activists. This all happened despite Falk, as a former government attorney in the investigation, being under a court-imposed order to not speak about the matter. Video of Falk blasting conservatives is here. RightWisconsin documented an instance when Falk went on a radio show to attack those he once harassed as a GAB lawyer.
6) GAB lawyer called Wisconsin voters “sheeple”
Shane Falk, as a GAB lawyer, was so skeptical of Wisconsin voters that he once wrote in an e-mail that Wisconsin politics “is being run by corporations and billionaires” and, “[t]he cynic in me says the sheeple would still follow the propaganda even if they knew.”
7) GAB lawyer said he wanted to nail Gov. Scott Walker
Instead of following the evidence where it led, GAB lawyer Shane Falk expressed frustration to another government lawyer for saying Gov. Scott Walker was not the target of a John Doe investigation. “You just lied to the press,” Falk wrote in an e-mail to special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and obtained by the Wall Street Journal and Wisconsin Watchdog, “See attached ‘target’ sheets from our search warrant and subpoena meeting. I see ‘SW’ right up near the top on page 1. Is there someone else that has those initials? Page 3 even has all the stuff we wanted from SW.”
8) GAB officials were prepared to accept recall petition signatures by “Adolph Hitler” and “Mickey Mouse”
In December 2011 the MacIver Institute caught the GAB discussing how it would accept recall petition signatures from “Adolph Hitler” and “Mickey Mouse” as long as a Wisconsin address was listed. As the conservative think tank reported, “all signatures that include a proper date and a Wisconsin address are presumed valid” by the GAB.
9) GAB spokesman accused conservatives of being racist
In 2012 after groups concerned about election integrity – mostly conservative groups – made calls to the GAB alerting them to potential instances of election irregularities, Reid Magney complained to The New York Times that the groups were racist and targeted minorities. “Pick your minority group,” he said of the reports of potential election problems.
10) GAB denied voters a chance to vote in recall elections against their own elected officials
The GAB in late 2011 decided that state Senate recall elections slated to take place in 2012 had to take place in old districts, districts that were no longer in existence thanks to the 2010 census and subsequent district lines drawn with the latest and most accurate population data. While state senators represented Wisconsin citizens in their new districts, those lines didn’t match the old district lines, so voters who were not within the boundaries of the old districts were denied a chance to vote on whether or not to keep their current state senator. Conversely, voters located in what were then portions of other senate districts were given a chance to vote for or against a state senator who was no longer representing them in the state Capitol.
11) GAB used a limitless secret budget to spend taxpayer money without accountability
Under its original charter, the GAB was given the power to have a secret budget with zero financial constraints and no public accountability. This secretive budget allowed the agency to spend – at minimum – hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on partisan probes into conservative organizations and activists.
12) GAB wouldn’t disclose the nature of secret investigators it hired to harass conservatives
Using a little-known provision that exempts them from key portions of the state’s open records law, the GAB repeatedly refused to disclose the identity, pay or contract of a secret investigator – Dean Nickel – they hired to harass conservative groups in a John Doe probe.
13) GAB officials cost Wisconsin taxpayers tends of thousands of dollars in legal costs
Because GAB officials waging a campaign against conservative groups were accused of violating the civil liberties of the targets of the investigation, the state of Wisconsin had to retain legal counsel to defend the employees in court. The full cost of this legal defense of GAB officials is not yet final, but so far it has cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
14) GAB officials used private Gmail accounts to execute state business
Kevin Kennedy, head of the GAB, admitted to lawmakers in a legislative hearing that his agency routinely used private Gmail accounts to carry out state business to exempt their work from scrutiny and shield their efforts from accountability. The MacIver Institute captured video of the stunning exchange.
15) GAB’s top dog regularly coordinated and communicated with disgraced IRS official Lois Lerner
E-mails show that Kevin Kennedy, the top dog at GAB, regularly coordinated and communicated with Lois Lerner, the former Obama Administration official who used the IRS to harass conservative groups. Kennedy’s travel schedule and expense reports also reconcile with the e-mail traffic that shows him involved in an extensive relationship with Lerner that spanned the professional to the personal.