GOP GAB (copy) (copy)

Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, center, flanked by Assistant Majority Leader Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, left, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, right, unveil their plan to split the Government Accountability Board and overhaul campaign finance law during a press conference in October 2015. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed an ethics complaint against Knudson Sept. 1 for forming his own express advocacy PAC.

As part of a packed two-day agenda, the Wisconsin Assembly plans to take up a bill on Wednesday that would split the state's Government Accountability Board into two agencies run by partisan appointees. 

The proposal is speeding through the Legislature, and by the middle of last week, it was unclear exactly how many members would be appointed to the two new commissions. That and other items were clarified in an amendment approved in a committee vote on Thursday.

Here's what the confusion was all about.

The Government Accountability Board currently has six members.

Those members are all former judges, nominated by a committee of appellate judges, appointed by the governor and confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate. Board members serve six-year terms. The board oversees state ethics, elections and campaign finance rules. It was formed in 2008, after an overwhelming bipartisan vote in 2007 to abolish the existing state ethics and elections boards and create the GAB.

The new model would go back to a two-commission model.

One would oversee elections, and the other would oversee ethics rules.  Each commission would have a bipartisan, six-member board.

Republicans backing the proposal say the current model had good intentions but has been a "failed experiment."

It took some work to get the bill's language to reflect the author's stated intent.

Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, said when he introduced the bill last week that the six-member boards would be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. 

But initially, the language in the bill wouldn't have accomplished that, because it was missing a requirement for the governor to pick one nominee from each party. That was fixed before the bill was formally introduced.

Still, the bill's language wasn't completely clear. Although it was intended to six appointees to each board, it appeared there would actually be eight members due to a provision allowing the state Democratic and Republican parties to each fill a slot.

"Republicans are rushing through this bill so fast that they don’t even seem to know how many people are on this board," a spokeswoman for Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in an email to reporters on Wednesday.

Knudson cleared those points and others up in an amendment approved in a committee vote on Thursday.

Knudson's amendment specifies that each board will be composed of six members. It also establishes that the chair of each commission would switch between parties every two years, and enables commissioners to start their term before they are confirmed by the state Senate. 

Here's how the elections commissioners would be selected:

  • One member appointed by the Senate majority leader
  • One member appointed by the Senate minority leader
  • One member appointed by the Assembly speaker
  • One member appointed by the Assembly minority leader
  • Two former municipal or county clerks, one from each political party. Legislative leadership in both parties will prepare a list of three nominees each. The governor will choose one from each list.

Here's how the ethics commissioners would be selected:

  • One member appointed by the Senate majority leader
  • One member appointed by the Senate minority leader
  • One member appointed by the Assembly speaker
  • One member appointed by the Assembly minority leader
  • One member representing each major political party. Legislative leadership in both parties will prepare a list of three nominees each. The governor will choose one from each list.

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Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.