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Haas says he’s 'absolutely' a scapegoat for the Government Accountability Board

Haas says he’s 'absolutely' a scapegoat for the Government Accountability Board

Michael Haas used to work for the now-defunct Government Accountability Board, and because of that, Senate Republicans say, Haas should resign from his position as the the interim administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Committee.

Haas said on a Sunday talk show that Republicans aren't judging him based on his merit or actions. 

“So you’re saying you’re a scapegoat in this in some respects?” host Mike Gousha asked Haas.

“Absolutely,” Haas said.

On Tuesday, the state Senate will vote whether to confirm Haas in his position as administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Committee. After a critical report on the GAB, Senate Republicans have asked Haas to resign. Instead, Haas has taken to the media to explain why he should keep his job. On Sunday, he appeared on two political talk shows on WKOW-TV, “UpFront with Mike Gousha” and “Capital City Sunday,” to plead his case.

“I think that every complaint that ever existed about the GAB has been basically put in a pail and thrown at me, whether or not it’s justified,” Haas said on “Capital City Sunday.”

The GAB was dismantled in 2015 by Republicans who cited concerns about bias against them, and was replaced with the state ethics and elections boards.

In December, the Wisconsin Department of Justice released a report that criticized the GAB for its John Doe investigation to determine whether there was coordination between conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.

The DOJ report condemned the GAB for how it handled the evidence, and said it appeared the GAB was used as a weapon against Republicans "by partisans in furtherance of political goals.” Attorney General Brad Schimel recommended disciplinary action against some GAB employees, but not Bell or Haas.

In the aftermath of the report, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called for Haas and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell to resign, pointing to concerns of "partisan influence remaining.” Fitzgerald said that because of Haas and Bell’s history with the GAB, he no longer has confidence that either can act fairly.

But on Sunday, Haas said Fitzgerald hasn’t listed any specific reasons for that lack of confidence.

“We know (that lack of confidence) doesn’t exist among public, clerks or the voters, because we would hear about it if that was the case,” Haas said.

On “UpFront,” Haas said that the GAB controversy has all been centered on the ethics side of the board, and “nobody has had any single complaint about the way elections are run” or how the commission informed the public about voter ID laws. Haas said Wisconsin has rated among the best states in administering elections in country.

Haas has unsuccessfully asked for a public hearing before the Senate vote to defend himself. In the absence of a public hearing, Haas has taken to Twitter and the media to make his case.

“It’s a little disappointing that we're not going to be allowed to present a case in person, allow the public to weigh in and allow senators to have their questions,” he said on “Capital City Sunday.”

Haas said his role in the John Doe II investigation was “very limited,” and involved ”reviewing some briefs that were filed and litigation that was challenging the investigation.”

“I’ve been asked to defend actions that I really did not partake in,” he said.

Even so, Haas said he’s proud of the work the GAB did in its “very complicated” investigations.

Bell, also looking to defend his job, has said the opposite. The culture at the GAB “didn't prevent partisanship and allowed subjectivity to occur," Bell said, and has been particularly critical of former staff counsel Shane Falk.

Haas said on both shows that he doesn’t have a headcount of how many senators are planning to vote for or against him on Tuesday, as he hasn't been receiving many "definite answers."

But even if he the Senate doesn't vote to confirm him, his fight may not be over. Although Haas said he hasn’t “focused closely on what would happen if there was a 'no vote,'” he said there is a statute that says only the Ethics and Elections commissions can oust an administrator.

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