Oct. 16, 2015
As a former Republican State Representative serving the Neenah-Menasha area from 1961-1971, I follow Wisconsin politics and government closely. Currently, there are two bills moving through the Legislature at breakneck speed. I suggest leaders in both the Assembly and Senate slow down this runaway train to allow for the public to become better educated on the content of the legislation and to give legislators adequate time to study the fine points of both bills.
Senate Bill 294 was introduced by Senator Fitzgerald and Representative Vos on Oct. 9 and Senate Bill 292 was introduced by several Republican legislators from both houses on Oct. 8. The gist of SB 294 would dismantle the current nonpartisan Government Accountability Board (GAB) and replace it with two new commissions, one for ethics and one for elections. SB 292 would double the amount of money entering campaigns by creating higher donor limits. These are major changes that will have long term implications for clean government in Wisconsin and thusly require greater scrutiny and thoughtful review.
Upon learning of introduction of these bills and the hastily called committee hearing, I traveled to Madison to attend the joint committee hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 13, a mere handful of days after introduction of these important legislative initiatives! I sat through the entire long day of testimony and offered my thoughts to the committee at the end of the hearing. I requested the committee put the brakes on fast tracking these bills and hold hearings outstate to gather input from the public. It appears that my request has been ignored and the Assembly is set to vote on SB 292 and SB 294 on Wednesday, less than two weeks after introduction! I suspect a vote in the Senate won’t be far behind.
Essentially, SB 294 eliminates the GAB, the nonpartisan board comprised of six retired judges, with a partisan ethics commission and a partisan elections commission. The GAB has done a fine job of keeping our elections clean and working with municipal clerks in administering state election laws. The GAB also has effectively administered ethics laws and kept government free from abuse and corruption. Rather than changing the entire nonpartisan judicial appointment model and going to two partisan commissions, the Legislature should look to make changes to the current GAB by requiring greater oversight of staff by the board and reining in the perceived autonomy of the staff in decision making on ethics investigations.
In regard to SB 292, there is already too much money in our elections. The idea that we need to double the amount of contributions is ludicrous. Incumbents like campaign donations and this is an incumbent campaign fund padding initiative. SB 292 should not be passed. The Legislature should be working toward moving big money from unnamed sources out of campaigns and keep donations from citizens at a reasonable amount.
In closing, good government makes good politics. I see very little of that happening in Madison these days, particularly as it relates to these two bills.
David O. Martin