From Watchdog to Lapdog: What "Replacing" the GAB Means



Just a week after announcing his run for the presidency, Scott Walker announced that "he supports dismantling and replacing the state’s independent elections and ethics board.... In its place, Walker said, he supports the creation of 'something completely new that is truly accountable to the people of the state of Wisconsin.' Walker left open the possibility that a replacement board could have partisan leadership, compared to the current board, made up of six former judges" (Wisconsin State Journal, July 21, 2015).

The independent elections and ethics board referred to above is the Government Accountability Board. For more than a year, the GAB has been the subject of vitriolic attacks from conservatives, including the Wall Street Journal and columnists like George Will in the Washington Post. According to, 

The Wall Street Journal editorial board, in one of its twenty-plus pieces on the Wisconsin [John Doe] probe, has described the investigation as proof that "campaign-finance laws have become a liberal weapon to silence political opponents," and portrayed the investigation as an "effort by Democratic prosecutors to criminalize political speech in Wisconsin. The Journal editorial board has stated explicitly that "the legal backlash to the probe offers a rare chance to dismantle" what it calls Wisconsin's "regulatory machine." [, July 1, 2015]

The Wisconsin State Journal — not exactly a mouthpiece for progressive politics — recently published a sharp-edged editorial denouncing efforts by Scott Walker, Robin Vos, and Scott Fitzgerald (among others) to kill the Government Accountability Board so as to tighten Republican control of all aspects of governance in Wisconsin. In it, the editors point out that the GOP-run legislature had to change the law

to give auditors sweeping access to the GAB’s secret investigatory records. State auditors subsequently scoured those documents and last week released their findings — that the GAB is diligently doing its difficult job....

Top GOP leaders who were hoping to find something — anything — to criticize in the audit were silent last week. We hope that means they’ll call off their self-serving bid to replace the strong and independent GAB with a weak panel of their partisan pals. [Wisconsin State Journal, July 21, 2015]

The goal of the well-financed, right-wing assaults is clear: eliminate WI campaign finance law by turning the watchdog agency charged with oversight of campaigns and elections into a Republican lapdog.

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board's hope that the legislature will cease its efforts to dismantle the nonpartisan agency is all well and good. But we all know that hope is not a plan. Take action now: volunteer to write letters to editors and news outlets, to post links to the volunteer page on all your social media platforms, to write and call your legislators (and all the others too), but most importantly to sign our petition calling on the legislature to say NO to tampering with the GAB.

We can disrupt the effort with people power and sunshine, just as the outcry against the budget provision to neuter the open records law brought the GOP to heel, if we are organized and very vocal. Start by signing the petition.

To begin a targeted campaign of letters and calls to legislators, it's helpful to know that in 2007, when the law establishing the current GAB passed, no Republican voted against it. Twenty four of those Republicans who supported the measure then are still in the legislature today. So we need to call them out. Here's a list, courtesy of Common Cause of Wisconsin:

Wisconsin State Senate

  1. Robert Cowles SD3 – Green Bay; (608) 266-0484
  2. Alberta Darling SD8 – River Hills; (608) 266-5830
  3. Scott Fitzgerald SD13 – Juneau;  (608) 266-5660
  4. Sheila Harsdorf SD10 – River Falls; (608) 266-7745
  5. Mary Lazich SD28 – New Berlin;  (608) 266-5400
  6. Luther Olsen SD14 – Ripon; (608) 266-0751
  7. Jerry Petrowski SD29 – Marathon (as a State Representative in 2007); (608) 266-2502
  8. Steve Nass SD11 – Whitewater (as a State Representative in 2007); (608) 266-2635
  9. Frank Lasee SD1 – Bellevue (as a State Representative in 2007); (608) 266-3512
  10. Leah Vukmir SD5 – Wauwatosa (as a State Representative in 2007); (608) 266-2512
  11. Roger Roth SD19 – Appleton (as a State Representative in 2007); (608) 266-0718
  12. Terry Moulton SD23 – Chippewa Falls (as a State Representative in 2007); (608) 266-7511

Wisconsin State Assembly

  1. Al Ott AD3 – Forest Junction(608) 266-5831
  2. Gary Tauchen AD6 – Bonduel(608) 266-0486
  3. Jim Ott AD23 – Mequon(608) 266-0486
  4. John Murtha AD29 – Baldwin(608) 266-7683
  5. Jeff Mursau AD30 – Crivitz(608) 266-3780
  6. Joel Kleefisch AD38 – Oconomowoc(608) 266-8551
  7. Kevin Petersen AD40 – Waupaca(608) 266-3794
  8. Joan Ballweg AD42 – Markesan(608) 266-8077
  9. Robin Vos AD63 – Rocheser(608) 266-9171
  10. Samantha Kerkman AD61 – Genoa City(608) 266-2530
  11. John Nygren AD89 – Marinette(608) 266-2343
  12. Lee Nerison AD96 – Westby(608) 266-3534

These 24 are our special snowflakes: they need to hear from everyone across the state. But you should write, call, and generally make your views known to your Assembly and Senate representatives even if they are not on our list of flip-floppers. The Republicans all need to know that we frown on what they are up to. The Democrats need to know we have their backs.

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