The State Elections Board has now chosen to worry about it's reputation.
They did not seem to be the least bit concerned about their reputation a couple of months ago as they were helping Jim Doyle get reelected.
Worried about its public image and dogged by complaints that political "hacks" serve on it, the State Elections Board took the first step Wednesday to develop new public disclosure and conflict-of-interest rules.
On a unanimous vote, the board created a subcommittee to draft new policies that Executive Director Kevin Kennedy said are needed to assure the public that the board isn't "unfairly used" by whichever political party controls it at the time.
The subcommittee was created partly in response to the controversy over extensive lobbying of Democrats on the board by a lawyer for Gov. Jim Doyle's campaign before Aug. 30, when the board voted to punish the campaign of Doyle's Republican challenger, Mark Green.
Then, four Democrats and the Libertarian Party designee on the board ordered Green's campaign to get rid of $467,844 from political action committees not registered in Wisconsin. Two Republicans on the board voted against the order, which Green is fighting in the state Supreme Court.
The Journal Sentinel reported that Doyle campaign lawyer Mike Maistelman called, e-mailed and met with Democratic board members before the Aug. 30 vote, pushing them to act against Green's campaign. A state Republican Party official also contacted a GOP board member before the same vote, which occurred in Waukesha County.
Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher said he believes four members of the board violated the state's open meetings law before the vote. He said an investigation into the possible violations is "pending," although he has not yet received an official complaint that would trigger the probe.
Elections Board members Wednesday also told the subcommittee to consider new rules that would require the disclosure of donations by individual board members to campaigns and candidates the board regulates and new standards on campaign fund raising or "other campaign-related work" by board members.
The Journal Sentinel reported last month that Chairman John Savage has donated $6,800 to Republican and other candidates regulated by the board since 1999, including a $1,000 donation to Green's campaign before the Aug. 30 vote. Democratic designees on the board have also contributed to candidates and campaigns, records show.
Seven of the board members are appointed by the governor and political party leaders, with the eighth seat going to a Libertarian Party designee. The ninth member is appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
Board member Greg Paradise, a Republican appointee, said claims that only political "hacks" serve on the board have been made for decades. But the new controversies have brought a need to "help restore public confidence," he said.
Paradise; David Anstaett, who is the chief justice's appointee; and Libertarian Party designee Jacob Burns were named to the subcommittee. Because it did not get 10% of the vote for governor on Nov. 7, the Libertarian Party will lose its board seat on May 1.
The Elections Board is also fighting for its political life in the Capitol. Doyle and key legislators are again pushing a plan to combine it with the state Ethics Board. The new merged agency would have broader authority to investigate public officials and would be run by a non-partisan board.
I will have more on this later.