Accountability has to be more than just a word – it should be a way of life. If it ever becomes just a word, then change is necessary. That is why I voted in favor of making changes to the Government Accountability Board (GAB). Unfortunately, there are some in government who wish to protect the status quo, even if it’s not working. Those people have spread a great deal of misinformation about why we are making changes, what the changes are, and what the end result will be. I am writing to set the record straight.
The GAB was a product of legislation passed by the Republican controlled legislature in 2007. The new agency combined two existing boards – the Elections Board and the Ethics Board – into one non-partisan agency. At the time, many thought that the GAB would become a model for the other 49 states, but eight years later, that has not been the case.
Not a single state has followed our model, and very few policy experts have come to its defense. I believe this to be a byproduct of how poorly the GAB managed its basic duties. For instance, statutes required the GAB to audit voter rolls regularly, yet the agency failed to carry out this task between February of 2010 and April of 2014 – a span that included 16 elections and nearly half the lifetime of the agency. The GAB was also supposed to audit electronic voting equipment… which they failed to do for the 2008, 2010, and 2012 general elections. When the GAB did conduct an audit in October of 2013, the Legislative Audit Bureau noted that the GAB failed to follow proper auditing procedures. Finally, after eight years of existence, the GAB had no formal procedure for processing complaints brought to the board. The agency was failing in completing important functions; accountability had become just another word to the GAB.
That is why the legislature is creating a new, less centralized structure. Wisconsin will return to having two commissions – one that oversees ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance, and one that oversees elections. Each commission will have six members. The elections commission will feature four citizen members (two Democrats and two Republicans) and two county clerks (one Republican and one Democrat), while the ethics commission will be made up of six citizen members (three Democrats and three Republicans). Under this bi-partisan model, Wisconsin will remain one of only a handful of states that doesn’t use a partisan official to oversee elections. With the decentralization of the GAB, I expect increased accountability and less opportunity to pass the buck around the bureaucracy.
What won’t change is Wisconsin’s commitment to ethics and fair elections. Standards of conduct will be upheld, corruption will be punished, and accountability will return to being a way of life rather than just a word.
Brooks (R-Reedsburg) has represented the 50th Assembly District since 2009.