Stop the Attacks on Elections and Ethics Commissions Leaders

An open letter to Fitzgerald, Vos and Wisconsin State Senators

January 10, 2018

RE: Stop the baseless attacks on Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Mike Haas and Wisconsin Ethics Commission Administrator Brian Bell, and give them a public hearing.

Dear Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Vos and Wisconsin State Senators:

Many of us have interfaced with Haas and other Elections Commission staff in our voter service work and have always found them to be helpful, nonpartisan and highly professional. Under Haas’s leadership, the Elections Commission has administered the 2016 statewide presidential recount, implemented online voter registration, implemented the voter ID law, provided training for clerks across the state on changes in election law and implemented a new statewide voter database and election administration system. The Elections Commission achieved these accomplishments while also launching the new state elections agency, which was established less than a year ago.  Likewise, the leadership of Bell has expressed nonpartisanship and impartiality in his dealings with campaign finance, election integrity, and lobbying regulations.We, the undersigned local and national civil rights, election reform and community organizations, write to express our support of Elections Commission Administrator Michael Haas and Ethics Commission Administrator Brian Bell. We are deeply troubled by reports of legislative leaders moving to oust Haas and Bell if they do not resign due to a purported lack of confidence in their ability to remain nonpartisan in their duties in the fallout of the John Doe II investigation. That is a notion we reject wholeheartedly. We urge you to call off the scurrilous attacks on Haas, Bell and the commissions they lead. Give them a public hearing so that they may clear their names.

Furthermore, we trust the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commissioners to be able to evaluate their st aff and make decisions about their ability to maintain the nonpartisanship of our elections. In a motion unanimously passed by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the bipartisan commission reaffirmed their support of Haas:

We have reviewed the Attorney General’s report of December 5, 2017. Nothing in that report has caused us to question our support of Interim Administrator Michael Haas. We remain unanimously in support of his current position and continue to seek his appointment as permanent administrator. We recognize and support his authority as to supervision of the WEC staff.

Many of our groups have also interacted with Ethics Administrator Bell and have always found him to act in the most professional manner. What’s more, the bipartisan Ethics commissioners voted unanimously at its December 5 meeting that “Mr. Bell’s performance as Administrator exceeded expectations.” One of those commissioners, Republican Mac Davis, said that Bell is “being unfairly tarred.” Another commissioner, Democrat Jeralyn Wendelberger, said that “there has not been one whiff of partisanship whatsoever from our administrator.”

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission has unanimously requested that Administrator Bell “be given a public hearing prior to a vote as to his confirmation.” We strongly support this call, and we call on you to grant Administrator Haas a public hearing, as well.

We demand that Administrators Bell and Haas have an opportunity to defend themselves in an open hearing, and that the public have an opportunity to weigh in on this matter.

We remind you that the DOJ report did not recommend disciplinary action against either Haas or Bell.

The reprehensible attacks on Bell and Haas are beneath the dignity of our elected officials and are toxic to democracy. As Mark Thomsen, chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, stated: “It is simply wrong and morally repugnant for elected officials to attack the motives and reputations of hard-working public servants. The character assassinations and slander must stop.”

Wisconsin needs strong Elections and Ethics Commissions with the knowledge and expertise on staff to protect the integrity of our electoral system.  Casting doubt on the process, by unduly trying to dismantle the leadership of the agencies responsible for running our elections and keeping elected officials accountable, harms the whole system at a time when our focus should be on boosting voters’ confidence that their vote matters.

We ask you to keep voters’ interests at heart and remove this cloud of doubt unjustly hanging over the Elections and Ethics Commissions. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Shauntay Nelson, Program Manager, Wisconsin Voices

Matt Rothschild, Executive Director, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Paul Geenen, State Lead, OFA_WI

Deb Nemeth, Executive Director, 1000 Friends

Astar Herdon, Executive Director, 9to5

Linda Garcia Barnard, 9to5

Erin Grunze, Executive Director LWV-WI

Jay Heck, Executive Director, Common Cause in WI

Catoya Roberts, Executive Director, MICAH

Marilyn Miller, MICAH

Chris Ott, Executive Director, ACLU

Sachin Chheda, Director, Fair Elections Project

Sen.Tim Cullen, Co-Chair, Fair Elections Project

Sen. Dale Schultz, Co-Chair, Fair Elections Project

Eileen Stevens, Grassroots Northshore

Martha Pincus, Grassroots Northshore