On Monday, embattled Government Accountability Board executive director Kevin Kennedy went on the Madison-based Devil’s Advocate radio show to comment on his tumultuous tenure leading Wisconsin’s ethics and elections oversight agency and on Republican-proposed reforms to that agency. During the interview, Kennedy doubled down on his hyperbole that Republicans curious about his long-running personal and professional relationship with disgraced IRS official Lois Lerner are engaging in McCarthyism.
Lerner used her perch at the IRS to harass and investigate conservative groups that were out-of-line with the Obama Administration’s political views. Kennedy, while involved in a deeply personal relationship with Lerner according to emails the two exchanged, used the GAB to harass conservative groups in Wisconsin.
“It is embarrassing that people, one, don’t know how much they are behaving like McCarthy era Republicans,” Kennedy told the Madison radio hosts when asked about a GOP state senator who queried him about his relationship with Lerner. “[T]hey are so shallow,” Kennedy claimed “that they would look at something like this.”
At a state Senate hearing on legislation that would split the GAB into two separate agencies and reform how it functions, Kennedy refused to answer a question about his ties to Lerner, declaring, “Seriously, do you have no decency? I owe you no explanation about my personal relationships.” He also said the question was “right out of the McCarthy era.”
Asked about how he viewed proposed changes to the GAB – changes that would eliminate it and replace it with an ethics board and election board that – Kennedy decried the legislation. “This was something that was pulled out of the hopper and rushed to a public hearing,” he complained. Kennedy’s major concern is that reform is “putting the legislature on a very hands-on approach.”
Kennedy said that the fact that four GOP state senators were blocking an up-or-down vote on the reform was a good thing. “I think it is a reason for optimism,” he declared. But on Wednesday morning it emerged that the state Senate will take up the GAB reform bill on Friday, but the measure will be amended to include two retired judges on the panel of the to-be-created state ethics board.
Right now, the GAB is managed by a board of retired judges, but under their leadership and the free rein they have given to Kennedy and his staff, numerous partisan acts have been committed by what is supposed to be a non-partisan agency.
Liberal groups like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Common Cause in Wisconsin are urging their constituency to call Senators Luther Olsen, Sheila Harsdorf, Rob Cowles, and Jerry Petrowski – all Republicans – and ask them to vote against the GAB reform.