Ethics Commission Allows Themselves to Make Political Contributions

This poses an interesting scenario.

Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board wasreplaced this summer with two separate commissions charged with overseeing elections, ethics, lobbying and campaign finance rules in the state.

Commissioners on each board are partisan appointees, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

The four commissioners who voted to allow donations said because they are appointed based on their partisan affiliations, they should be able to donate to candidates as state law permits.

But the two who wanted to ban donations argued allowing commissioners to contribute to the candidates they regulate could cause the public to lose confidence in government.

Opinions cut across party lines.

On the one hand, commissioners who are going to be ruling on the ethics of others should try to apply the rules without bias or prejudice. If they donate money to a candidate or political group, they have demonstrated a bias.

On the other hand, the entire purpose of setting up the ethics commission as a body of partisans who are balanced against each other is an acknowledgement of the fact that everyone has biases. It is better for those biases to be on the table for everyone to see. In that case, who cares if they are making political donations? The Democrats donate to Democrat causes and candidates. The Republicans donate to Republican candidates and causes. Duh. Of course they do.

While I understand the objection to allowing the commissioners to make political donations, I lean on the side of allowing them. At least their biases are plain to see. But I also think that commissioners should recuse themselves from participating in any ethics investigations of people to whom they have donated money. If they do that, however, it would necessarily unbalance the commission in favor of opponents of whoever is being investigated. That wrecks the balance of competing biases that undergirds the commission’s structure. As such, were I a commissioner, I would vote to allow political contributions, but I would not give any until I served on the commission.