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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald pushed the state Senate to oust leaders of the ethics and elections agencies, while some officials deny they have the right to do so.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald pushed the state Senate to oust leaders of the ethics and elections agencies, while some officials deny they have the right to do so.

State Senate votes to fire ethics and elections chiefs; agencies dispute their power to do so

The state Senate has voted to fire leaders of both the state Ethics and Election Commissions, potentially triggering a legal battle within the government.

Brian Bell and Mike Haas were voted out of their positions through an 18-13 vote along party lines on Tuesday, with all Senate Republicans for and all Democrats against their removal.

The vote follows a growing wave of Republican anger over the officials’ former employment at the now decommissioned Government Accountability Board, which conducted a controversial investigation into the Walker administration prior to its dissolution.

Leaked documents, illegally revealed to The Guardian, highlighted the Walker campaign’s involvement and coordination with conservative political groups able to raise unlimited funds for his 2012 election effort.

The GAB launched an investigation into the violations but the agency met its demise following a state Supreme Court ruling, declaring that the uncovered campaign funding coordination was legal, and ordering a halt to the probe.

Republicans are concerned, in part, over details in the leak. This includes the committee's investigation and possession of personal emails from state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, to her daughter regarding a health issue.

Some Democrats have argued that some of the investigation’s findings, despite the agency’s disbandment, still merit consideration.

“What Republicans did doesn't pass the smell test,” state Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, commented. “It’s another attack on state workers who’ve done nothing other than fulfill their duties.”

No evidence has been brought forward to suggest that Haas and Bell had any direct involvement with the investigations.

State Senate Majority Leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, led the effort to oust Haas and Bell and suggested that his chamber may seek to expel more government employees who worked at the defunct agency.

“It is important to move beyond the failed [GAB],” said state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, commented in a press release, adding that the investigation is a “black mark on the history of clean government in Wisconsin.”

The future of the administrators’ futures is still up in the air despite the Senate vote, as both the Ethics and Elections Commissions contend the Senate does not have any right to fire their members.

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Both bipartisan committees voted unanimously to keep both leaders and will meet later in the week to discuss the impact of the higher chamber’s vote.

Haas remains steadfast and asserts that he is “showing up for work tomorrow.”

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