Conservative think tank connected to former Gov. Walker calls to end Wisconsin Elections Commission
Then-Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin holding up a $1 bill at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore /Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0
A conservative think tank — run by a former staffer for then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and connected to former Gov. Scott Walker — has called for abolishing the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) and moving the administration of state elections to the elected secretary of state.
The think tank, the Institute for Reforming Government, called for the change to state election law in a news release Monday morning.
“It is time to abolish WEC and implement good government accountability when it comes to Wisconsin’s elections and work to restore confidence among Wisconsin residents,” Chris Reader, executive vice president of IRG, said in a statement. “When unelected bureaucrats oversee Wisconsin’s elections it can lead to the erosion of faith and confidence in our electoral system. Thirty-three other states have elected officials overseeing the election process, providing a good measure of accountability by empowering people across ideological spectrums to provide a check on who manages elections. This is a good government measure that will benefit all Wisconsinites.”
The think tank’s president is CJ Szafir, who previously worked on Fitzgerald’s staff and served as the executive vice president for the right wing legal outfit, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. Walker is named on the think tank’s website as its former national honorary chairman.
According to the think tank’s most recently available tax records, it paid Walker’s consulting firm, the Walker Group, more than $164,000 in 2019.
The call comes as Republicans continue an effort to delegitimize state election administration in the wake of the 2020 presidential election and former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen.
This weekend, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) met with Trump to discuss an ongoing investigation into the election led by former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. Gableman recently traveled to South Dakota for a conspiracy theory-laden convention, run by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, where lies were spread about the 2020 election.
Gableman was joined by a state lawmaker and Robert Spindell, a member of the Elections Commission who has frequently spread conspiracy theories about last year’s election as well.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), who chairs the Assembly Campaigns and Elections Commission, has continued an effort to hold a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election — similar to the widely derided audit held in Arizona.
The conservative group’s call to disband the Wisconsin Elections Commission — made up of six members, three appointed by Democrats and three by Republicans — comes just six years after Republicans themselves created the commission.
Fitzgerald, now a member of Congress, and Walker were behind the creation of the WEC in 2015 after they disbanded the Government Accountability Board (GAB) over some similar complaints to the present complaints about the WEC. The GAB was made up of members appointed by a panel of appellate judges and was responsible for administration of the state’s election, ethics and campaign finance laws.
Republicans disbanded the GAB after it began investigating Walker for violations of campaign finance laws through so-called John Doe investigations.
GOP leaders, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, directly cited those investigations as the reason for the disbanding of the GAB and the creation of two new commissions to take its place — the Wisconsin Elections Commission and Wisconsin Ethics Commission.
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The legislation that created the WEC was introduced by then-Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson). Knudson is now a member of the WEC and its former chair.
The current Wisconsin secretary of state is Democrat Doug La Follette. The office is largely responsible for maintaining government records, as Republicans took nearly all of the other responsibilities — and most of the staff — away from the office they now want to run elections under Walker, moving La Follette to a storage room in the Capitol basement. In 2015, a different right wing think tank, the MacIver Institute, called for abolishing the position.
The Institute for Reforming Government did not respond to a request for comment.
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