Posted: January 30, 2007
Updated: February 28, 2007
Wisconsin’s ethics, campaign finance, elections and lobbying laws have not been faithfully, consistently and rigorously enforced in recent years. The painfully apparent shortcomings of the existing enforcement agencies have played an important role in opening the door to political corruption in our state.
There was a time when the state Elections Board and Ethics Board were up to the task of performing their respective functions. That time has passed. They are no longer effective, largely because of flaws in their structure that have left them incapable of adapting to a changing political environment in state government.
Because the campaign finance and elections issues the Elections Board has overseen now frequently intersect with the ethics and lobbying matters the Ethics Board has been responsible for, it makes sense to replace them with a single enforcement authority. This bill does that.
In recent years, enforcement authorities have too often found themselves under the thumb of the very partisans whose activities they are supposed to oversee. Too often they have looked the other way when confronted with evidence of ethical trespasses. The resulting damage to Wisconsin’s reputation for clean, open and accountable government has made it clear that the state needs a politically independent enforcement agency under the direction of a nonpartisan board. The bill passed by the Legislature today creates such an entity.
And, this new enforcement authority needs real teeth. It needs the authority to investigate any and all possible wrongdoing and, most importantly, it needs the financial means to independently conduct investigations. This bill gives the new Government Accountability Board the investigative autonomy it needs and provides the necessary financial independence so the GAB will be able to conduct investigations without having to go hat in hand to the Legislature to request funding as the Ethics Board currently must do.
We applaud the willingness of the governor and legislative leaders to work in a spirit of bipartisanship to reach agreement on this important first step toward restoring Wisconsin’s good name, and we appreciate their willingness to listen to constructive suggestions for improving the initial agreement in principle. We hope the persistence and bipartisan collaboration they demonstrated in making ethics enforcement reform a reality will be replicated as they tackle other needed reforms and ultimately take the other necessary steps to win back Wisconsin’s reputation for honorable politics and clean government.
(Note: The governor signed the bill into law on February 2, 2007.)