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GOP Invites More Corruption into the State

Issue of the Week

Dec. 13, 2016
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In the past year, state Republicans pushed through a number of new laws weakening oversight of elected officials, including themselves. Back then, we warned that the GOP was opening the door to corruption in a state that once had a squeaky-clean reputation. Now, we realize we were right to be concerned. 

One of the very terrible laws Republicans passed destroyed the nonpartisan, independent Government Accountability Board (GAB), which was viewed as a national model for clean and honest government, and replaced it with an Ethics Commission and an Elections Commission, both of which are made up of equal numbers of partisan appointees. The new commissions, which launched this summer, were “designed to fail,” as we put it last year, because they would get mired in partisan gridlock so that they couldn’t investigate corrupt elected officials. The six-member commissions, each comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats, need four votes to decide anything. Any controversial issue divides along political lines, making it virtually impossible to get four votes and get anything done.

On Monday, that came to fruition when Reserve Judge Robert Kinney, a Democratic member of the state Ethics Commission, announced he was resigning. Kinney wrote in his resignation letter that in October the commission split along partisan lines on whether to strike “furthering Wisconsin’s tradition of clean and open government” from its mission statement. The board split again on whether to investigate a complaint about campaign finance—likely a complaint about Republicans—that he said merited a closer look.   

“At a time when public confidence in elected officials has been deeply eroded, we should be doubling down on our efforts to enforce campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying laws,” Kinney wrote. “When charges of financial or ethical improprieties are leveled, or allegations of quid pro quo corruption are made, they must be thoroughly and timely investigated, and, if warranted, aggressively prosecuted. Sadly, it appears we have created a system which almost guarantees that this will not occur. It would be an enormous injustice to the People of Wisconsin and to the success of our government in serving them if this agency is relegated to shuffling papers.” 

So the Republicans got exactly what they wanted: a toothless watchdog that won’t be able to enforce the state’s ethics laws. We applaud Kinney’s willingness to serve the public and attempt to ensure that our government is clean and transparent and working in the interests of the common good. We also applaud him for taking a principled stand and resigning. It’s disappointing that once again the Republicans are proving that they are more interested in cheating the system to stay in power than cleaning it up.


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