Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...

Tag: Government Accountability Board

Bell Denounces GAB

Too little, too late.

As a vote on his fate draws near, state Ethics Administrator Brian Bell is ripping the former state ethics agency, the Government Accountability Board, saying he left it in 2015 because it enforced the law unevenly and one of its top attorneys, Democrat Shane Falk, “displayed open partisanship.”


Bell, in a memo to lawmakers Wednesday, singled out Falk — the accountability board’s former staff counsel — saying he “displayed open partisanship,” defied his supervisors and “enabled a climate at the GAB that made it acceptable to make offensive or disparaging remarks about political parties, candidates and elected officials.”

“Other staff, including some in management, furthered and tolerated such a climate,” Bell wrote.

Here’s the thing… Bell may very well be on the up and up. But even as he himself admits, the GAB was so rabidly unethical and partisan that anyone associated with it can’t wash off the stench. And the fact that Bell is only making these statements three years after the fact and when his job is threatened makes his denunciations ring a bit hollow.

Frankly, I’m less concerned with Bell right now than his bosses who have reflexively decided to die on this hill instead of working to ensure that the Ethics Commission’s reputation for integrity is above reproach.

GAB Winds Down

Thank goodness.

Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, the election and campaign agency that supporters laud as a pioneering success and critics call a failed experiment, ends this month after nearly a decade in existence.

It was a failed experiment. Now we need to keep a close eye on the new boards to make sure they are meeting expectations for impartial administration of our electoral system.


GAB Spent Gobs of Time and Money on Unconstitutional Doe Probe

More justification for disbanding this corrupt agency.

MADISON, Wis. – The Government Accountability Board staff involved in Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe investigation spent more than 2,500 hours engaged in what the GAB’s top administrator has described as a “parallel” probe, according todocuments obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

That doesn’t account for the many untold hours GAB staff spent on the investigation before agency director and general counsel Kevin Kennedy admonished the attorneys to begin charting their hours.

More so, the documented time amounts to $107,715.08 spent on the specialized labor between 2013 and 2015, based on the salaries of the six GAB employees and the percentage of their time devoted to the politically charged John Doe. Another $14,879.80 was not documented.

Walker Signs Law Eliminating GAB with Vetoes


Assembly Bill 388 – partially vetoed, this bill eliminates the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and creates two new commissions – the Elections Commission, which will administer and supervise elections, and the Ethics Commission, which will administer and supervise ethics, campaign finance, and lobbying regulations.  Both commissions will be comprised of members from all sides of the political aisle who will serve five year terms.  The integrity of the election process will be protected by the proper checks and balances to the oversight of these new commissions.  The Governor exercised a partial veto to ensure that the Governor’s office receives an adequate number of nominations for the commission appointments of county or municipal clerks and former judges.  This bill was authored by Representative Dean Knudson (R – Hudson) and Senator Leah Vukmir (R – Wauwatosa).  The bill passed by the Assembly by a vote of 58-39.  It was concurred in the Senate as amended by a vote of 18-14.  Because it was amended in the Senate, the Assembly concurred with those amendments by a vote of 58-37, respectively. It is Act 118. – See more at:

The partial veto is fairly innocuous. It prevents the legislature from just giving him just one nominee from each category to force a choice.

Walker, who did not hold a press event to sign the legislation, used his partial veto powers to tweak the measure. As written, the legislation would have required lawmakers from each party to provide him with a list of up to three former judges and up to three former clerks to appoint to the commissions.

Walker modified that to require them to provide him with three nominees for each category, rather than up to three. That will give the governor more options in choosing the appointees for the two new agencies.

GAB Reform Bill Heads to Walker


The Assembly has OK’d the Senate amendments to the GAB overhaul bill.

The first Senate amendment passed 58-37, with Republicans Warren Petryk, of Eleva; Todd Novak, of Dodgeville; and Travis Tranel, of Cuba City, joining Dems in opposition. Read the roll call here.

I just hope that Walker vetoes out the retired judges from the bill.

Wisconsin Senate reforms election laws and oversight

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:

In the wee hours of Saturday, the Wisconsin Senate passed a pair of bills reforming the state’s political campaigns and the oversight of them. Both sets of reforms, born out of necessity, will be in place for the presidential election next year.

The first bill reforms Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws. A series of federal and state court rulings over the past few years have invalidated various portions of Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws as unconstitutional. The result has been the state’s campaign finance laws rendered largely unenforceable, leaving people in legal limbo.

The campaign finance reform bill makes several changes to bring Wisconsin’s laws into compliance with the recent court rulings, changes campaign contribution limits and defines express advocacy. Perhaps the most controversial portion of the bill is to remove the requirement for political donors to disclose their employer.

Under current law, people who donate $100 or more to a campaign must disclose their employer. The problem is two-fold. First, the provision is largely unenforceable because campaign treasurers, who are obligated to provide the information, do not have any legal authority to compel donors to provide the information. If a donor refuses, there is nothing anyone can do about it. Second, the disclosure of employers has been used by activists to target businesses for retribution, even though the employer does not have a right to tell an employee which candidates to support. Under the bill passed by the Senate, donors will still have to disclose their occupation, but not their specific employer.

The second bill passed by the Senate on Saturday morning will replace the rogue Government Accountability Board with two bipartisan commissions. The GAB, born out of the caucus scandals of the last decade, is a failed experiment. The intention of the GAB was to create a nonpartisan board with vast power and independence to oversee both ethics and elections. The GAB was to be run by austere retired judges, who had been ground to wisdom with the millstone of time.

The GAB’s creation was widely supported by liberals and conservatives, including me. We were all wrong. We all failed to heed the lessons taught to us by our nation’s founders, who knew that all people are corruptible. The best defense against the ravages of tyranny is to accept the fallibility of mankind and build government structures on the foundation of competing interests. The GAB’s despotic attacks on the First Amendment rights of the people it was supposed to serve were the result of bad people wielding too much power in too much secrecy.

The Senate bill decentralizes the power of the GAB over ethics and elections into two commissions. Each of the commissions will be staffed by an equal number of partisans from each major party. Both commissions will also be more accountable to oversight by the legislature. The Legislature has also committed to continuing to clarify and reform Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws, as they have already done, in order to ensure that it will leave less gray area for dispute over the enforcement of those laws.

Unfortunately, the Senate, unlike the Assembly, included a provision to include a couple of retired judges, a la the GAB, on the Ethics Commission. This was a compromise included in the bill to placate a handful of squishy Republicans. I do not know why these Republicans have such a mystical faith in the druidical robes of retired judges, but they were not going to support reforming the GAB without them. More than likely, the inclusion of the retired judges was more for the purpose demonstrating the power of a frustrated wing of the Republican Senate caucus than any actual attempt at making the bill better for Wisconsinites.

Both Senate bills were slightly different than the versions passed last month by the Assembly, so the Assembly will reconvene next week to vote on the Senate version of the bills. Assuming that the Assembly passes the identical version, which it is widely expected to do, the bills are headed to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, where the governor will hopefully use his veto pen to correct some of the illconceived concessions that found their way into the bill. In any case, Wisconsin is well on its way to a better political process.

Holdouts in Senate Delay GAB Reform

Get it done, already.

Senate Republicans continue to be hung up on whether to include retired judges in one of the commissions that would replace the GAB.

Senate GOP leaders had hoped to be in today to take up the legislation, along with one to overhaul Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws. But without a deal on either bill, they pulled the plug on today’s planned floor meeting.

Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said members have been told to keep open the rest of the week for possible floor action with Wednesday and Thursday the last days scheduled for a regular session period this year.

She also raised the prospect the Legislature could come back in extraordinary session to deal with the bills. That’s, in part, because the Senate may make changes to both bills, which already cleared the Assembly.

“We haven’t ruled that out,” she said.

GAB Reform Advances

Wow. Not even the pretense of unbiased writing from Scott Bauer, but this is good news.

In a heated committee meeting, where one Democrat pounded his first on the table, Republicans voted as a bloc to advance the bill eliminating the Government Accountability Board which oversees elections, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.

In its place, two new commissions overseeing elections and ethics run by partisan appointees would be created, doing away with the current board of six nonpartisan former judges. Republican backers say that will create a more transparent process, while Democratic opponents say it will only lead to gridlock and the opportunity for more political corruption.

The bill is rocketing through the Legislature, with its introduction, public hearing and committee vote happening in a week. The full Assembly was scheduled to vote on passing it Wednesday.

Kennedy Responds to Questions from Legislature

What always strikes me about reading Kennedy’s comments is the dripping condescension and arrogance. And it isn’t just story… it’s the same in almost every story. Kennedy is clearly incensed that these elected officials – those who represent the citizens and are his bosses – have the temerity to question his actions. What a tool. He needs to go.

Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, questioned Kennedy about his relationship with former IRS Director Lois Lerner, who was at the center of a controversy over the federal agency allegedly targeting conservative groups.

“Seriously? Have you no decency? That is right out of the McCarthy era,” Kennedy said to Kapenga.

The two continued to talk over each other with Kennedy at one point asking, “Are you going to let me answer the question?”

Kennedy suggested he had already answered questions about his relationship with Lerner through past media accounts. He again described it as a friendship that had developed out of a professional relationship that dates back years.

“I don’t always believe what the press prints,” Kapenga said.

Kennedy also had a tense exchange with Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, who ticked off a list of shortcomings he said were identified in a Legislative Audit Bureau review of the agency.

Leader of Agency About to be Dismantled Protests Timing


Government Acountability Board Chair Gerald Nichol is asking legislative leaders to hold off on legislation to split the agency in two, raising concerns the move “could have serious consequences” for the 2016 elections.

But GOP leaders said they met Wednesday morning to finalize the bill and hope to introduce it next week.

Nichol wrote all four caucus leaders “we have already seen an exodus of staff members who perform critical functions” due to uncertainty over the agency’s future. He also noted 2016 will be the first year of “full statewide use of photo ID.” It was in effect only for the spring 2012 primary before being blocked in federal court. Since being allowed to go into effect, it has been in place for a handful of local and special elections.

There’s always an election around the corner and there’s always changes being made to the process of elections. If anything, Nichol’s letter should be a motivation to scrap the GAB sooner rather than later to give the new folks time to prepare.


Wisconsin FEC

I support this plan.

Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, and other Assembly Republicans — including Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, named by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos as the lawmaker who will shepherd a GAB overhaul bill — want to change the GAB to have the same structure as the FEC. The federal commission has six members: three Democrats and three Republicans.

The GAB is nonpartisan, made up of six former judges appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

The notion that people are unbiased or nonpartisan is unrealistic. Yes, people can be fair, but everyone has their biases. It is part of the human condition. Our Founding Fathers knew that, which is why our government is set up as a set of balancing interests – states vs. federal; executive vs. legislative; party vs. party; prosecutor vs. defense attorney. This forces the government to gain support from a majority of opposing factions before levying the coercive power of the government against the liberties of the individual. It is far better to be honest and transparent about people’s biases than to try to pretend that anyone can be an unthinking, unemotional robot with no opinions on what’s going on in the world.

GAB Lawyer Planned Strategy for John Doe


On Feb. 11, 2013, Falk wrote in an email to Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney David Robles that “A la the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Caperton, (Justice Patience) Roggensack may have to recuse herself from any appeals on this Badger Doe. (The conservative group) Club For Growth WI has been running expensive TV ads for Roggensack — issue ads but a clear support of her.”

“DA Chisolm (sic) may want to take this into consideration in his review of proceeding on this matter. I think it helps significantly,” Falk wrote, apparently referring to a potential court case prosecuting targets of the probe.

Ultimately, prosecutors sought to have two conservative justices, David Prosser and Michael Gableman, recuse themselves from litigation over the investigation, but not Roggensack.

So here you have a lawyer for the “non-partisan” Government Accountability Board making suggestions on a strategy to force a conservative Justice to recuse herself so that the illegal Doe prosecution could survive a legal challenge.

Clearly the GAB was an active and activist contributor to an unconstitutional prosecution. I hope Wisconsin legislators keep these actions in mind and throw the whole GAB into the “bad idea” trash can. And anyone currently working for the GAB should be prohibited from working for whatever agencies take over its functions.

Kennedy Admits Bias in GAB

Well, he’s not trying to admit bias, but he does.

Kennedy, the accountability board’s director, said he appreciated that Falk was blunt but added he had talked to him about his tone when he worked for the agency. Falk last year left the accountability board, which runs elections and oversees campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws.

“I’ve had numerous conversations when he was employed with me about toning it down,” Kennedy said. “And it’s ironic — Shane was also one of the ones who would say, ‘Be careful what you say.’ And he would give me the same cautions, and other staff. ‘Don’t put that view down,’ and yet he was victim to that. I’m not going to throw Shane under the bus, other than to say I dealt with those issues as they came up from a personnel standpoint, as to whether that was the best way to handle things.”

Falk’s emails do not show the accountability board is biased, Kennedy said. Falk didn’t decide what to investigate; the six former judges on the board did, Kennedy said.

If the GAB director and staff were not biased and behaving as such, why would they need to warn each other to “be careful what you say?” And from Kennedy’s comments, it sounds like it was a relatively common occurrence for staffers to warn each other to not “put that view down.” What views were they putting down? Conservative views. Why? Because they are liberal activists.

Let us be done with the GAB and find a better way to accomplish their statutory mandates.

Kevin Kennedy Responds to WSJ Article

Let’s deconstruct this, shall we?

MADISON, WI – Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, today issued this statement:

“I am not going to dignify the Wall Street Journal’s opinion column with any comment,

Oh the indignity! Except that his statement saying that he’s not going to offer a comment comes in a press release that he issued for the express purpose of offering a 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.

Except that it does. It contains the actual emails where a GAB lawyer was taking a partisan stance and coordinating the campaign messaging of a Democrat with the public statements regarding a criminal investigation. Where in the statutes does it say that the GAB is supposed to work with the Democratic candidate for governor and the Democratic DA of Milwaukee to coordinate their messaging? I must have missed that statute.

I think any discussion about the structure or mission of the G.A.B. should be done through the legislative process.

So the public isn’t supposed to discuss the GAB? Public discourse about them is disallowed? Yes, the legislature needs to take up the GAB’s structure and mission, but that does not preclude public debate of the same.

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.”

Notice that he is glad to answer questions from legislators, but not the public. This taxpayer-funded appointee thinks it is beneath him to actually respond to the public he is supposed to serve.

Kevin Kennedy has no credibility and is certainly not unbiased. He needs to go.

Rampant Partisanship in GAB

Despite what the GAB’s defenders try to spin, it is a highly-partisan organization with a penchant for abusing its authority. These are some jaw-dropping revelations from the Wall Street Journal.

In an email to Mr. Schmitz on Nov. 27, 2013, GAB staff counsel Shane Falk encouraged the special prosecutor to keep up the good work and “stay strong” in his pursuit of conservative nonprofit groups and allies of Mr. Walker. “Remember, in brief, this was a bastardization of politics and our state is being run by corporations and billionaires,” Mr. Falk wrote. “That isn’t democracy to say the least, but due to how they do this dark money, the populace never gets to know.”

“The cynic in me says the sheeple would still follow the propaganda even if they knew,” Mr. Falk continued, “but at least it would all be out there so that the influences on our politicians is clearly known.” By “the sheeple” Mr. Falk means Wisconsin voters.

In June 2014, Mr. Schmitz’s attorney, Randall Crocker, issued a statement saying that Governor Walker was not a target of the investigation into campaign finance coordination. “You just lied to the press,” Mr. Falk wrote in an email to Mr. Schmitz, copying Mr. Kennedy, others at the GAB and Milwaukee DA John Chisholm. “See the attached ‘target’ sheets from our search warrant and subpoena meeting. I see ‘SW’ right up there near the top on Page 1. Is there someone else that has those initials?”

The Doe team was also apparently concerned that exonerating Mr. Walker as a target might have an effect on the election or damage the chances of 2014 Democratic nominee for Governor Mary Burke. “If you didn’t want this to have an effect on the election, better check Burke’s new ad,” Mr. Falk continued, “Now you will be calling her a liar. This is a no win.”

Notice how the GAB attorney is actually trying to coordinate the media positioning of the John Doe investigators with the campaign position of the Democratic candidate, Mary Burke. There isn’t a hint of objectivity in these correspondence.

The GAB is rotten from the head down. Scrap it and start over. We need an oversight body for elections and ethics, but the GAB has failed to be the objective and unbiased organization it was intended to be.

Rogue Agency

Now that the budget is done, it is time to turn attention to the GAB.

The co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee today called on GAB Director Kevin Kennedy to resign following a report the agency had been in touch with the IRS during a secret investigation into coordination between conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign during the recalls.

“We have completely lost confidence that the GAB can be trusted to operate in a non-partisan manner for the citizens of the state of Wisconsin with Kennedy in charge,” the co-chairs said in a press release. “In order for the GAB to return to its original mission, Kevin Kennedy must go.”

As the article shows, the Republicans’ bone-headed attempt to restrict the release of open records in the budget will make it more politically difficult to tackle the GAB, but it must be done. This agency and it’s director are out of control.

“Wisconsin should be embarrassed…”


“Wisconsin should be embarrassed that it has a statute like this on the books, but it should also be embarrassed that it has a DA and a Government Accountability Board that didn’t understand the First Amendment implications of their behavior and what they are doing,” von Spakovsky said.

“Frankly, everyone on the GAB and these judges that authorized these John Doe investigations ought to resign in embarrassment,” he said.

Defense of John Doe Costing Taxpayers

Bear in mind that this only includes money spent on outside counsel. It does not include all of the time and expense incurred by the Milwaukee DA office and GAB.

Documents obtained by the MacIver Institute show taxpayers shelled out $965,191.70 from July 1, 2013 to November 30, 2014 to six different law firms, which are defending the Government Accountability Board (GAB), Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, and other John Doe investigators. The largest sum of money – $589,523.02 – went to three law firms representing the GAB or its special prosecutors in the John Doe probe.

It is worth noting that this is also money being spent in these law enforcement budgets that is NOT going to things like reducing gang violence, victim services, etc.



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