Elections Board and Ethics Board Reform Bill

2003 Senate Bill 11 bill proposing the merger of the State Elections and Ethics boards. Elections Board and Ethics Board Reform Bill

(Senate Bill 11)

Posted: September 2, 2003
Updated: April 7, 2010

The current structure of the Ethics Board and the Elections Board hinders independent investigation and prosecution of violations of the law. The Elections Board is comprised of members designated by the governor, chief justice, eligible political parties, and partisan legislative leaders. The current Ethics Board must get permission from the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee for funding to conduct investigations concerning political misconduct.

Senate Bill 11 as amended contains the following key components:

  • Single Enforcement Agency - SB 11 abolishes both the current Ethics and Elections Boards and replaces them with a Government Accountability Board. The new agency would assume all of the functions and responsibilities of the current boards. In addition, a fully-funded enforcement division would be created that could conduct investigations of alleged violations of law and issue decisions that can be enforced in court. This independent investigative and prosecutorial authority provides a coordinated approach to ethics and election law enforcement.
  • Appointing Authority and Composition of the Board - Under the original bill, board members would have been appointed by the state Supreme Court. This would have raised both constitutional and practical problems. As amended by the Senate Education, Ethics and Elections Committee, the Government Accountability Board would consist of at least 6 members appointed by the governor. The board is composed of one governor-appointed member from each political party whose candidate for statewide election received at least 1% of the vote in the most recent general election and who is to be designated by the chief officer of that party. Four public members would be selected by the governor (subject to advice and consent of the senate) from a list compiled by a nonpartisan committee consisting of the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the deans of the UW and Marquette Law Schools, and the chief officers of the Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Towns Association, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Newspaper Association, and State Bar of Wisconsin. These are 4-year staggered terms.
  • Adequate Staff and Financial Resources - Adequate resources for enforcement should include an independent source of funding for investigations (preferably a sum sufficient appropriation).

The bill is sponsored by Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah), Representative Terri McCormick (R-Appleton) and 12 other legislators. The Senate Education, Ethics and Elections Committee approved the bill on May 14, 2003. It waits scheduling before the full Senate (see WDC March 2003 testimony for more information).

Addendum April 7, 2004:

SB 11 has received no further action and is considered dead for the 2003
legislative session.


Reform of the State Elections and Ethics Boards was passed in January 2007.