SENATE (copy)

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau


Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Friday if the heads of the state's ethics and elections commissions do not resign, the Republican-led Senate will make moves to force them out.

Neither Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas or Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell have been confirmed by the state Senate. If they do not resign, Fitzgerald said, he will take up their appointments in January and "senators will have the opportunity to be responsive to their constituents and cast an up or down vote."

Haas said on Friday he was "very surprised" to receive a letter from the Republican leaders of the Legislature asking for his resignation. 

Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, sent two similar letters Thursday night calling for Haas and Bell to step down, citing concerns with "partisan influence remaining" in the two commissions that replaced the now-defunct Government Accountability Board. 

"I appreciate that the bipartisan members of the Elections Commission have unanimously supported my continuing to lead the elections agency. I am proud of everything our staff has accomplished over the past 18 months," Haas said in a statement on Friday.

He pointed to the implementation of the state's voter ID law, the launch of online voter registration and the completion of a statewide presidential election recount, and said there is "much more" to be done to secure the state's elections systems.

"I look forward to continuing the important work of administering elections on behalf of all Wisconsin residents and taxpayers, and I call on the Legislature to support that work," Haas said.

The letters come in the wake of a blistering state Department of Justice report on the results of an investigation into leaked documents from a now-shuttered probe into Gov. Scott Walker and his allies. 

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Attorney General Brad Schimel has recommended disciplinary action against several former GAB employees, but not Bell or Haas. 

According to the DOJ report, "the systemic and pervasive mishandling of John Doe evidence likely resulted in circumstances allowing the Guardian leak in the first place, and now prevents prosecutors from proving criminal liability beyond a reasonable doubt."

The agency also argued the GAB was weaponized "by partisans in furtherance of political goals" and collected personal information about Wisconsin Republicans without taking steps to secure it. GAB employees left "sensitive evidence unsecured" in the agency's office space and on its computer systems, according to the report.

Fitzgerald said "any leftover remnants" of the agency will never have the public's confidence to "ensure complete non-partisanship in the administration of elections or the oversight of government ethics."

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.