Following a call from Republican lawmakers for major reforms to Wisconsin's nonpartisan elections agency, Gov. Scott Walker said on Monday he wants the board dismantled and replaced with something new.
Walker told reporters he wants to eliminate the Government Accountability Board in favor of "something completely new that is truly accountable to the people of the state of Wisconsin," the Associated Press reported.
The GAB assisted with a John Doe investigation into whether Walker's 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with independent conservative groups. That investigation came to a halt last week, when the state Supreme Court ruled it can no longer continue.
A GAB spokesman had no immediate response to Walker's comments.
Jay Heck, director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, called the proposal a "completely misguided, self-serving and counter to the interests of all Wisconsinites who value a fair and independent state agency overseeing our elections, campaign finance laws, lobbying and ethics."
"Walker's call for the elimination of the GAB is simply revenge and retribution for the GAB approving of an investigation of what was clearly a violation of Wisconsin campaign finance law in 2011-12," Heck said. "The elimination or evisceration of the GAB will only raise further questions about whether or not Walker and his campaign were involved in illegal activity. And it will be viewed by citizens as an attempt to simply eliminate any entity that puts adherence to the law above partisan fealty."
Earlier this month, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, called for "necessary reforms" including "a means to change the way the GAB operates," after a Wall Street Journal editorial reported the agency had been in contact with the Internal Revenue Service when it investigated conservative groups.
"The agency leadership needs to be accountable to the GAB board and the board needs to be accountable to the Legislature and the citizens of Wisconsin," Vos and Knudson said in a joint statement on July 10.
The same day, Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, called for GAB director Kevin Kennedy's resignation, calling the GAB a "rogue agency that ignores state law and operates against its founding principles."
The Wall Street Journal editorial focused on a 20-year professional relationship between Kennedy and former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused with others of targeting conservative groups in reviewing their tax-exempt status.
Darling and Nygren said the editorial made it "clear that the harassment of conservative groups by Lerner at the federal level directly coincided with the harassment of conservative groups right here in our state" through the John Doe investigation.
At the time, Kennedy issued the following statement: "I am not going to dignify the Wall Street Journal’s opinion column with any comment, except to state that it contains no facts showing that I or the Government Accountability Board did anything inappropriate or out of the ordinary given the agency’s statutory responsibilities. I think any discussion about the structure or mission of the G.A.B. should be done through the legislative process. I am always glad to answer questions of legislators who wish to articulate a specific concern about the agency’s actions, although I am not free to comment on matters that are presently the subject of lawsuits or are confidential by statute."