Republican legislative leaders are seeking resignations from the chief staffers of the state Elections and Ethics commissions, citing “concerns over partisan influence remaining” from their predecessor, the former Government Accountability Board.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald sent letters late Thursday to Elections Commission administrator Mike Haas and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell.
“You have lost the confidence of our caucuses to be an impartial administrator,” Vos and Fitzgerald told Haas and Bell in the letters.
The chairman of the state Elections Commission, Mark Thomsen, responded by dismissing the letters as “partisan game-playing.” Thomsen, a Democratic appointee, said Haas has acted impartially and has the unanimous support of Republican and Democratic commissioners.
“Under no circumstances would I accept a resignation by Mr. Haas,” Thomsen said.
Ethics commissioners, Republican and Democratic, also have defended Bell from fallout from a report issued last week by Republican state Attorney General Brad Schimel — to which Vos and Fitzgerald referred in their letters. The report examined a 2016 leak of records to The Guardian from a now-ended probe of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and outside conservative campaign groups.
Ethics Commission chairman David Halbrooks declined comment late Thursday on the letters from Vos and Fitzgerald.
John Doe II investigation
The Government Accountability Board, the state’s campaign finance agency at the time of the so-called John Doe II probe, assisted prosecutors with it. The state Supreme Court quashed the investigation in 2015, and Wisconsin Republicans decried it as a partisan witch hunt.
“Due to past errors in judgment by leadership and staff at the recently disbanded Government Accountability Board, there are still widespread concerns over partisan influence remaining at the top of” the commissions, Vos and Fitzgerald wrote.
Republican lawmakers and Walker, angered by the John Doe II investigation, voted in 2015 to abolish the accountability board and create the commissions to succeed it. Both commissions have three Democratic and three Republican appointees.
Bell is a former employee of the accountability board but was not involved with the John Doe II investigation.
Haas was an attorney for the board and “was involved with reviewing and editing court filings” for the investigation, according to the Attorney General’s report.
Neither was among the nine current or former public officials that Schimel recommended face contempt-of-court charges for what he described as a failure to follow court orders.
The report did criticize the Ethics Commission for what Schimel described as a failure to secure sensitive documents related to the investigation.
Ethics commissioners responded by dinging the Schimel report for “omissions and inaccuracies” and called on Schimel to acknowledge that ethics staff cooperated with his inquiries.
Schimel on Wednesday told reporters he wasn’t calling on anyone to resign as a result of his leak investigation.
“We’re leaving that to the management at those agencies to decide what’s appropriate,” Schimel said.