The state elections agency would be overseen by a hybrid board, including retired judges and others, under a bill being drafted by Assembly Republicans.

“I’ve been looking at the board structure, and whether there would be some advantage to continue to have judges, but also add on some additional members that may have strengths, knowledge, background that would be different from the judges,” said state Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, who is leading the Assembly’s push to overhaul the board. “What I would call a hybrid board.”

He also said that he thought there should be an odd number of board members, rather than the current six-member board, to avoid stalemates.

Knudson provided new details of the proposal Wednesday, the same day the Legislature’s audit committee held an hours-long hearing about last month’s report of the state Government Accountability Board.

In the hearing, board members and the agency’s director defended the seven-year-old GAB, saying it had done an impressive job managing a heavy workload amid a politically turbulent time in Wisconsin.

“The Government Accountability Board is a Wisconsin success story,” said Kevin Kennedy, the director and general counsel of the GAB. “This is a legislative initiative the public and the Legislature should be proud of.”

Several board members also spoke in defense of the board, but they and Kennedy acknowledged that improvements could be made. Democrats also defended the agency.

The audit, released in December, found that the board needs to improve its administration and enforcement of campaign finance laws, complaints, lobbying and ethics laws.

But the report did not cite problems with partisanship or bias at the GAB.

Republican leaders of the committee said they plan to act quickly on some of the findings of the audit, and plan to introduce a bill to address some of the issues in the near future — such as auditors’ inability to obtain confidential files related to investigations.

And on Wednesday, Republican lawmakers repeated their criticisms of the board.

“It seems to me the board was really negligent in its authority,” said Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. “And I think the staff really stepped on our toes and I’m very concerned about that.”

Kennedy accused some critics of using the audit “to make political points.”

Republicans have been angry with the board for years, especially in the wake a secret John Doe investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups as well as its handling of recalls targeting Republican officials.


State Government Reporter for Wisconsin State Journal