Citing a Wall Street Journal editorial last week, Republican state lawmakers renewed and intensified their claim that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is politically biased and unfairly targeting conservatives.
Little evidence supports such allegations.
Moreover, GOP leaders are ignoring key facts about the GAB as they try to weaken if not disband the independent and nonpartisan watchdog agency that oversees campaign finance, elections, ethics and lobbying laws.
For starters, half of the retired judges who serve on the GAB were elected decades ago as Republicans to the Legislature, Congress or district attorney. Only one member of the GAB is a former Democratic district attorney from the 1970s, and he was appointed to the GAB by GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
The GAB signed off on a secret investigation of Walker’s 2012 recall election campaign, which Wisconsin Republicans trot out as evidence the GAB is mistreating them and their financial supporters for political reasons. But two of the four district attorneys who signed off on the probe are Republicans, and so is the special prosecutor who directed the effort. He even has said he voted for Walker.
Now comes a Wall Street Journal editorial critical of GAB director Kevin Kennedy. Citing anonymous sources and some quotes from emails, the Wall Street Journal questioned if Kennedy was coordinating state investigations of conservative groups with the IRS.
Kennedy traded emails with Lois Lerner of the IRS while her division of the federal agency was found to be inappropriately targeting tea party groups. Lerner was forced to resign because of the ensuing scandal in 2013.
Republicans understandably want to know more about Lerner’s connection and contacts with Kennedy, who says he and Lerner are longtime friends. The public should be curious, too.
But the Wall Street Journal editorial is speculating when it concludes that “Liberals worked together to turn the IRS and the GAB into partisan political weapons.”
Wisconsin Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who lead the Legislature’s budget committee, echoed the national newspaper editorial Friday in a fiery press release. You’d think these two might lay low for a few days, having embarrassed themselves a week earlier by trying to gut the state’s open records law.
No such luck. They quickly called for Kennedy to resign.
That’s for the GAB’s board of retired judges to decide. And we trust, given their long and distinguished legal careers, the judges will act on facts, not conjecture.
Other GOP lawmakers insisted Friday the GAB should be replaced “with a body that is accountable to the people.” What lawmakers really want is a GAB that’s accountable to lawmakers. Democrats, when they were in power, tried to weaken the GAB, too.
(One bright spot Friday was GOP lawmakers rediscovering the value of Wisconsin’s open records law. They filed a records request with the GAB for any emails to or from Lerner.)
Far better than going back to the bad old days of a weak and dysfunctional Elections Board stacked with the political pals of top lawmakers, Wisconsin should stick with a strong and independent GAB that’s insulated from politics as much as possible. The GAB’s structure is sound, regardless of any staffing issues it may or may not have.
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