Wisconsin Legislative Budget Committee Axes Controversial Plan for Office of Election Transparency and Compliance

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee this week rejected a plan by the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) to create a $2 million Office of Election Transparency and Compliance.

While the proposed bureaucracy’s name suggests election integrity, it would be built by WEC Administrator Meagan Wolfe, the same bureaucrat who has presided over an agency riddled with election integrity complaints and election law violations.

The Republican-led budget-writing committee voted along party lines to cut WEC’s proposal, along with 544 other proposals from Democrat Governor Tony Evers’ $104 billion biennial budget plan.

WEC’s proposed Office of Election Transparency and Compliance would be led by an elections inspector general and 10 additional staff members charged with increasing the agency’s “ability to research public or legislative inquiries — especially those alleging unlawful or non-compliant behavior — in a more timely and effective manner.”

The Elections Commission argues the new office is needed in the wake of allegations, some of them lodged by former President Donald Trump, about cheating in a 2020 presidential election in which Democrat Joe Biden narrowly defeated Republican President Trump in battleground Wisconsin.

But the inspector general would report to WEC administrator Meagan Wolfe, a controversial bureaucrat whose election law opinions at times have defied election law.

A policy paper published last year by the Institute for Reforming Government found support for the Elections Commission, noting myriad problems WEC has had complying with election laws and its failure to act as a truly nonpartisan regulator. The six-member commission — made up of three Democrats and three Republicans — has issued legally suspect guidance on everything from absentee ballot drop boxes to orders locking out special voting deputies at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

“This has left many to wonder whether it can manage our elections with the integrity necessary to satisfy the legitimate expectations of our fellow Wisconsinites,” IRG states in its report, which argues for the commission to be disbanded and election oversight turned over to the Secretary of State’s office.

WEC has been routinely criticized by conservatives for its left-leaning — and constitutionally questionable — interpretations of Wisconsin election law.

The commission was created after the 2015 demise of the corrupt Government Accountability Board (GAB), which helped lead Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe II investigations into dozens of conservative groups. The Wisconsin Supreme Court found the campaign finance probe to be a “perfect storm of wrongs,” politically motivated and led by left-leaning GAB staff with an ax to grind against its target: then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Some of the same GAB staff members remained with WEC.

IRG also noted the willingness of Elections Commission staff, particularly Wolfe, to help left-wing voting activists who, emails show, infiltrated the election administration in Wisconsin’s five largest and Democrat-heavy cities. The Chicago-based Center for Tech & Civic Life dumped some $9 million on the so-called “WI-5,” which used much of the funding for illegal get-out-the-vote efforts targeting traditionally Democratic voters. Emails show Wolfe was more than happy to connect a long-time Democratic Party operative in the CTCL network to the local elections officials.

Wolfe released a statement saying that she hopes the Joint Finance Committee will consider future proposals to “increase oversight, transparency and accountability in our elections.”

“The proposal to create an elections inspector general program is exactly what Wisconsin needs to address voters’ concerns directly and reclaim confidence in our elections,” she said.

Wolfe said the additional resources requested would allow the commission to increase the number of polling place accessibility audits and to respond faster to public concerns, records requests, and formal complaints alleging violations of election law.

“These investments are critical to boosting resiliency in our election infrastructure ahead of next year’s general election,” she said.

It’s just more government at a big government agency, state Representative Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam), co-chair of the finance committee, said of WEC’s funding request.

“I just think that for the most part, we’re focused on not creating new programs, not building new agencies or new offices within agencies — but investing in the priorities of Wisconsin through the current system,” Born told reporters. “There really isn’t a problem that there’s not enough government.”

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.



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