Boots & Sabers

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Tag: Ethics Commission

Ethics Commission Launches Secret Investigation

After weaponizing the GAB as a partisan hit squad against Republicans, it looks like some of the same people have simply moved over to the Ethics Commission and weaponized it.

The offices of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Sen. Steve Nass told they have been contacted by an attorney hired by the Ethics Commission to probe charges of “partisan influence” toward agency Administrator Brian Bell.

The Ethics Commission declined comment Tuesday, citing confidentiality laws regarding agency investigations. But the contacts come a little more than two weeks after Bell asked the commission to launch an investigation into his conduct to clear his name following Republican calls for his resignation.

They also come amid an escalation in the standoff between Fitzgerald and Mark Thomsen. The Elections Commission chair Tuesday called the Senate GOP leader a “bully” for refusing to hold a confirmation hearing for agency Administrator Mike Haas, who also has been called upon to resign.

Fitzgerald has instead indicated he plans to have the Senate vote later this month on the nominations of Bell and Haas, having previously predicted they would “never” win enough support in the GOP-controlled Senate to win confirmation.

Mike Mikalsen, an aide to Nass, R-Whitewater, charged Tuesday the probe launched by the Ethics Commission was an “abusive process.”

“It’s an attempt to try to intimidate the Senate from taking action on a confirmation vote,” Mikalsen said.

Ethics Commission Administrator Demands Investigation of Himself

The key to this is in the last sentence in the excerpt.

Ethics Commission Administrator Brian Bell is requesting the commission launch an investigation into his conduct, saying the move would help set the record straight on allegations legislative leaders have made against him.

Meanwhile, the commission is also weighing holding its own public review of Bell’s performance should the Senate opt not to hold a confirmation hearing. But commissioners in the meantime decided to send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to request more information on whether the chamber will hold a hearing prior to the up or down vote that could take place in January.

Bell said today an Ethics Commission review into his conduct would “refute the baseless allegations that have been made against me.”

“I believe that an objective review of my conduct in service to the state would definitively show that I have consistently conducted myself in a nonpartisan and impartial manner,” he said.

As part of an investigation, the commission would have the power to subpoena records and call witness in to testify under oath, Chair David Halbrooks noted.

It should be obvious on its face why the Ethics Commissions should not investigate its own administrator. It would be like having a police officer investigate himself after shooting a citizen. It is clearly inappropriate. But the reason Bell is calling for it is because, “the commission would have the power to subpoena records and call witness in to testify under oath.” The members of this commission, several of whom were complicit or directly involved in the abuses of the GAB and the John Doe, are angling to continue their persecution of Wisconsin conservatives under their new commission.

No thanks.

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.

Peg Lautenschlager Appointed to New Ethics Board

You have to be kidding me.

Former Democratic state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager was selected Monday as chair of Wisconsin’s new Ethics Commission, and the job of administrator was offered to a former analyst for the nonpartisan board the panel was created to replace.

Lautenschlager, who served as attorney general for one term, had to pay a fine to the previous Ethics Board following her arrest for drunken driving in 2004.

I actually don’t mind that Lautenschlager is rabidly partisan… and she is. I have sparred with her for hours on WPR’s Week in Review over the years and she is on the wingnut fringe of the Democratic Party. But this panel was intended to have partisan appointees. It abandons the fantasy that we can find a panel of utterly impartial beings to arbitrate ethics issues and instead embraces the real world with an adversarial process where all biases are on full display. There is no doubt that Lautenschlager’s biases will be on full display.

What bothers me is that Lautenschlager is ethically challenged herself. You can be partisan and ethical. Those people exist. Lautenschlager is not one of them. Remember that the scandal wasn’t really that she drove a state car into a ditch. The scandal was that she was using a state car in the first place. She declared her home as the official AG office so that she could use a state car to drive back and forth to Madison on the taxpayer dime. Her ethical violations were so bad that she lost in the primary to a Democrat who wasn’t seen as ethically challenged.

Now this ethically-challenged partisan is the head of the new Ethics Commission? We’re not off to a good start.



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