UPDATE: Wisconsin Assembly passes bill eliminating elections board

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UPDATED Monday, November 16, 2015---4:11 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a bill dissolving Wisconsin's unique nonpartisan board overseeing elections, campaign finance and ethics laws.

The proposal now heads to Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to sign it. The Assembly also passed another bill doubling campaign contribution limits as part of an overhaul of Wisconsin's campaign finance law.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Board is eliminated in one bill. That moves comes following Republican criticism of the board's involvement in a secret investigation into Walker and conservative groups.

Two new commissions with partisan appointees would take its place.

Democrats objected to a provision allowing a Republican-controlled committee to select administrators to lead the commissions if there is a stalemate on who to hire.

It passed 58-37 with no Democrats in support.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Friday, November 13, 2015---11:20 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Democratic state lawmakers are proposing an alternative campaign finance bill that would require more disclosure and donations and prohibits coordination with issue advocacy groups.

The approach from Democratic state Rep. Terese Berceau of Madison unveiled Friday runs counter to a Republican-backed bill up for a final vote Monday in the Assembly. Once passed as expected it will go to Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration.

The bill up for a vote would also do away with a state law requiring donors to disclose their employer. The Democratic proposal would retain that reporting requirement.

Supporters of the Democratic bill say they know it won't be considered, but it's important to make a statement.

The Assembly is also scheduled to vote on doing away with the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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Posted Friday, November 13, 2015---8:36 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Democrats and advocacy groups are making a final push to stop bills that would do away with Wisconsin's unique nonpartisan elections board and rewrite state campaign finance laws.

The Assembly was expected to pass the Republican-backed proposals Monday, the last step before the measures go to Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to sign them both.

Opponents planned a Friday rally at the Capitol.

One bill would replace the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board with one commission overseeing ethics, campaign finance and lobbying and another in charge of elections. The ethics commission would include two retired judges and an equal number of partisan appointees.

The campaign finance bill would do away with a state law requiring donors to disclose their employer. It also makes clear candidates can coordinate with interest groups.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Saturday, November 7, 2015 --- 5:47 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The state Senate has passed a bill that would dissolve the state elections board.

The GOP measure would dismantle the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections and enforces ethics law. The agency is led by six nonpartisan judges.

Republicans are upset with the board's role in an investigation into whether Gov. Scott Walker's campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups. The state Supreme Court halted the probe this summer; Republicans say the investigation was a political witch-hunt.

The bill would replace the GAB with two commissions made up of partisan appointees. One commission would administer elections. The other would enforce ethics laws.

The Senate approved the measure 18-14 early Saturday morning, capping a brutal all-night debate. The bill now goes to the state Assembly for final passage.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Saturday, November 7, 2015 --- 5:47 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The state Senate has passed a bill that would overhaul Wisconsin's campaign finance laws.

The bill would double the limits on contributions, clarify candidates and issue advocacy groups can coordinate and allow unlimited corporate and union donations to political parties and legislative committees. It also would do away with requirements that donors disclose their employers.

The Assembly passed the bill last month. The measure bogged down, though, after Senate Republicans questioned whether to retain employer disclosure on some level.

Senate Republicans amended the bill Saturday to require candidates and groups report finances twice annually instead of quarterly and tweak the definition of express advocacy. They didn't restore the employer disclosure requirements.

The Senate then passed the bill 17-15. The Assembly is expected to concur Nov. 16.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Friday, November 6, 2015 -- 10:34 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. -- The Senate took up two controversial measures Friday night. The first bill would disband the state's government accountability board. The other would rewire campaign finance laws in the state. Both measures have already passed the Assembly but the Senate planned on making some changes.

So far the Senate approved the GOP amendment to the Assembly's campaign finance bill. That amendment changes the required frequency for campaign finance reporting by candidates and other political committees. The Assembly wanted it done on a quarterly basis, it now stands as being reported bi-annually.

At 10:00 p.m. lawmakers were tackling the list of amendments the democrats proposed. Those amendments included requiring people who contribute more than $200 to a campaign to disclose where they work.

So far, every amendment proposed by democrats has been tabled.

Following the vote on the campaign finance bill, lawmakers will take up the GAB bill. The Assembly is expected to convene later this month to sign off on the Senate changes made on this bill.

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UPDATED Friday, November 6, 2015---10:43 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican state senators say they have agreements on bills doing away with the state's nonpartisan elections board and rewriting Wisconsin's campaign finance law.

Sen. Alberta Darling says that "everybody feels like we're all together" on the bills scheduled to be voted on Friday. Republicans have not released changes they are seeking to the proposals as they continue negotiating in private.

Sen. Devin LeMahieu says senators will move forward with including two retired judges on the newly created ethics commission. That is a break from what the Assembly approved last month.

And Sen. Steve Nass says the campaign finance bill will require donors giving more than $200 to disclose who their employer is. That also is a break from the Assembly version.

Senators commented before heading into a closed meeting.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Friday, November 6, 2015---10:08 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Senate Republicans still haven't revealed details about bills they are scheduled to vote on that would do away with the state's nonpartisan elections board and rewrite Wisconsin's campaign finance law.

Both bills were scheduled to be voted on Friday. But Republicans have not released changes they are seeking to the proposals as they continue negotiating in private.

The Assembly passed both measures last month, but they've been hung up in the Senate.

Republican senators are discussing making changes to both bills from what the Assembly passed. Areas of disagreement include what the makeup of the new ethics commission should be and whether donors to campaigns have to divulge who they work for.

The Assembly plans to return on Nov. 16 to vote on the bills again.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Friday, November 6, 2015 --- 4:49 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The state Senate plans to vote on eliminating Wisconsin's nonpartisan elections board on rewriting campaign finance laws.

Both measures were scheduled for votes Friday in a specially called session to pass the bills after Republicans reached a compromise following a weeks-long impasse.

The Assembly passed them both last month, but they've been hung up in the Senate. Once they pass as expected on Friday, they will then go to Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration.

One bill would do away with the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board and create two separate commissions to oversee elections, ethics, campaign finance and lobbying laws.

The ethics commission would include two retired judges, as well as partisan appointees. The Assembly version didn't have retired judges on the commission.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press
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UPDATED Thursday, November 5, 2015---2:49 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republicans who control the Wisconsin state Senate have yet to release details of changes they want to make to bills doing away with the nonpartisan elections board and rewriting state campaign finance laws.

Both bills were listed Thursday on a tentative agenda for proposals the Senate plans to vote on Friday. More than two dozen other non-controversial bills were also slated to be voted on, including a measure making it easier for pharmacies to dispense the drug Narcan to help treat heroin overdoses.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald had promised that the proposed changes to the other two bills would be released on Thursday. Fitzgerald's spokeswoman Myranda Tanck says that remains the plan.

Republican senators have said they have reached a compromise to pass both measures.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, November 3, 2015---1:33 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Senate Republicans are meeting outside the state Capitol as they try to muster enough votes to approve bills that would dissolve Wisconsin's nonpartisan elections board and overhaul campaign finance law.

Assembly Republicans passed both bills last month. The Senate was expected to convene Tuesday to vote on the bills but GOP Senate leaders canceled the floor period. They instead scheduled a private meeting where Republican senators can hash out their differences.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's spokeswoman, Myranda Tanck, said Tuesday afternoon the Republicans were meeting outside the building. She didn't immediately respond to an email seeking the location.

The scheduled fall floor session ends on Thursday, raising the possibility lawmakers might return in extraordinary session to finish the bills.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Monday, November 2, 2015---12:23 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The state Senate has canceled its scheduled session day Tuesday as deals remain elusive on a pair of bills that would dissolve Wisconsin's unique nonpartisan elections board and overhaul the state's campaign finance law to allow candidates to work closely with shadowy issue advocacy groups.

Both bills passed the Assembly and Republican leaders in the Senate were trying to reach a deal to vote on them as early as Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald spokeswoman Myranda Tanck said Monday it is still possible the Senate will meet later this week.

Republican senators were set to meet privately on Tuesday to discuss the measures.

Some moderate Republicans want to see changes in both bills, including retaining nonpartisan judges on the elections board instead of switching to all partisan appointees.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Wednesday, October 28, 2015---2:49 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Republican leader of the state Senate is optimistic that bills dissolving Wisconsin's unique nonpartisan elections board and rewriting the state's campaign finance law will be passed next week.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Wednesday that talks are ongoing with senators to reach consensus on the measures. Both bills passed the Assembly last week and they must clear the Senate in identical form before going to Gov. Scott Walker.

Senate Republicans met in private on Tuesday to discuss the bills. Some Republican senators want to make changes to the bill doing away with the Government Accountability Board, which is comprised of former judges.

The bill would create new elections and ethics boards made up of an equal number of Democratic and Republican appointees.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Wednesday, October 21, 2015---10:06 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Dissolving Wisconsin's nonpartisan elections board as envisioned by a bill set to pass the state Assembly may not have enough support to clear the Senate.

The Assembly planned to pass the measure Wednesday, along with another bill overhauling the state's campaign finance system.

But Republican Sen. Luther Olsen says the measure doing away with the Government Accountability Board does not have the backing of between three and four GOP senators, himself included.

Olsen says the major hang-up is whether to replace the former judges who currently sit on the board with appointees made by Democrats and Republicans.

Messages left with a spokeswoman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald were not immediately returned Wednesday.

A Senate committee planned to vote on both measures Thursday.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, October 20, 2015---10:26 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Election clerks are registering their support of Wisconsin's embattled nonpartisan elections board that is slated to be eliminated under a bill moving quickly through the Legislature.

Clerks spoke in support of the Government Accountability Board during its meeting Tuesday. The meeting comes the day before the state Assembly was scheduled to vote on a bill that would do away with the board and create a pair of commissions to oversee ethics and elections with partisan appointees.

Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell tells the board, "Power never likes to be checked and that's what we're seeing now."

Sun Prairie clerk Diane Hermann-Brown says she is concerned about the timing of transitioning to a new board next year, just four months before the November presidential election.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Thursday, October 15, 2015---12:04 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The head of Wisconsin's nonpartisan elections board is defending the agency from Republicans who want to do away with it.

Government Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy testified Thursday before the Legislature's Audit Committee. He says criticisms being made of the GAB are "outsized, unreasonable and uncivil."

But Republican critics pointed to parts of an August audit that find problems with how the agency handled about 1,900 complaints filed with the board between 2010 and 2013.

Also on Thursday an Assembly committee planned to vote on a fast-tracked bill that would replace the nonpartisan board with two separate commissions to deal with elections and ethics. They would be led by Republican and Democratic appointees.

The full Assembly plans to vote on that measure Tuesday.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, October 13, 2015---1:20 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The head of Wisconsin's elections board says a question posed to him during a public hearing by a Republican state senator was "right out of the McCarthy era."

Kevin Kennedy was asked during a public hearing on Tuesday about his relationship with former IRS director Lois Lerner.

Kennedy fired back to Republican Sen. Chris Kapenga: "Seriously, do you have no decency? I owe you no explanation about my personal relationships."

Kennedy then explained that he had known Lerner for years and they have a "professional friendship."

Kapenga's question came during roughly two hours of testimony Kennedy gave in opposition to a bill that would eliminate his position and do away with the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board he leads, creating two partisan panels in its place.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED Tuesday, October 13, 2015---10:02 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republicans calling for dissolving the nonpartisan board that oversees elections and government ethics laws in Wisconsin say it is a unique experiment that failed.

The bill heard at a joint Senate and Assembly hearing Tuesday would replace the Government Accountability Board with a pair of commissions headed by partisan appointees. One would oversee ethics laws, the other would deal with elections.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Dean Knudson, a Republican from Hudson, says "Rather than be a national model, Wisconsin's failed experiment has become a national embarrassment."

The change is being pushed by Republicans who feel the current board, created in 2008, has been biased in favor of Democrats. They are particularly upset with its role in a now-closed investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's recall campaign and the activity of conservative groups.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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UPDATED: Tuesday, October 13, 2015 --- 4:46 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Dissolving the nonpartisan board that oversees elections and government ethics laws in Wisconsin is the subject of a public hearing in the Legislature.

The bill to be heard at a joint Senate and Assembly hearing Tuesday would replace the Government Accountability Board with a pair of commissions headed by partisan appointees. One would oversee ethics laws, the other would deal with elections.

The change is being pushed by Republicans who feel the current board, created in 2008, has been biased in favor of Democrats. They are particularly upset with its role in a now-closed investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's recall campaign, and the activity of conservative groups backing him, in 2012.

Another bill being heard Tuesday would rewrite campaign finance laws and double how much can be given to candidates.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press
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UPDATED Wednesday, October 7, 2015---2:16 p.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Assembly Republicans have unveiled a bill that would dramatically reform the state elections board.

The GOP has been talking for months about overhauling the Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections and administers ethics laws. Republicans are upset with the board over how it handled recall elections in 2011 and 2012 and ballot designs. They're especially angry over the board's role in helping Milwaukee prosecutors investigate Republican Gov. Scott Walker's campaign.

Republicans introduced the bill on Wednesday. Under the proposal, the GAB would be split into two commissions. One would handle elections, the other ethics. The commissions would be led by boards comprised of partisans appointed by the Legislature and the governor.

Any investigations the commissions launch that cost more than $25,000 would be subject to legislative review.

If the bill passes, it would take effect in June, 2016.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press

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Posted Wednesday, October 7, 2015---9:38 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Assembly Republicans are planning to finally unveil a bill reforming the state elections board.

The GOP has been talking for months about overhauling the Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections and administers ethics laws. Republicans are upset with the board over how it handled recall elections in 2011 and 2012 and ballot designs. They're especially angry over the board's role in helping Milwaukee prosecutors investigate Republican Gov. Scott Walker's campaign.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he wants to replace the six nonpartisan judges on the board with partisan appointees, saying at least their political biases will be out in the open.

The Republicans plan to introduce the bill during a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol.

Copyright 2015: Associated Press