Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) quietly signed two pieces of legislation Wednesday that dramatically alter the election and campaign finance landscape in the state.
The first new law dismantles the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board -- an independent elections and ethics panel -- which has been held up as a national model because it's run by six former judges rather than partisan political appointees.
In its place will be two different commissions overseeing ethics and elections, ran mostly by partisan appointees put in place by the governor and legislative leaders.
The second law relaxes campaign finance rules, doubling the limit for individual contributions, eliminating the requirement that donors must identify their employer and allowing corporate donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees.
Walker held no public ceremony for these dramatic changes, signing the bills in a private event. The Associated Press noted that news of the signings came from a tweet from the author of the GAB legislation. Walker's office later put out statements confirming what he had done.
The changes attracted little attention outside of Wisconsin, particularly because Walker is no longer running for president. He ended his 2016 presidential bid on Sept. 21.
Walker and state Republicans have had GAB in their sights since they found out it assisted prosecutors who were looking into whether Walker's campaign illegally coordinated with outside organizations during the 2012 recall effort.
"There are still many questions about how the transition will happen, which we hope to answer in coming weeks," said Kevin Kennedy, GAB's director and general counsel. "2016 is a busy Presidential election year, but we will do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition and ensure the new commissions get up to speed."
Kennedy had urged Walker to veto the GAB bill, noting that getting rid of the 8-year-old board shortly before a presidential election -- the legislation will take effect in late June -- could create chaos.
"The effective date of this bill -- roughly five months prior to a major federal/state election -- is irresponsible, if not reckless, and could have major impacts on voters across the State of Wisconsin," Kennedy wrote in a memo.
It will also likely be the first presidential election in which the state's voter ID bill will be enforced on a large scale.
The state had a similar system of two commissions composed mostly of partisan appointees prior to the creation of GAB in 2007. The legislature voted overwhelmingly to create the current structure, however, because the old one was considered ineffective and partisan.
The new law would also, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, allow lawmakers "to control funding for investigations of alleged wrongdoing by public officials."
Common Cause Wisconsin, a group that focuses on campaign finance and election reform, said the two laws "were designed for one purpose only: to consolidate and maintain one party political control of Wisconsin as we head into a critical Presidential election year."
"This will be remembered as one of the saddest and darkest chapters, at the end of one of the most horrendous legislative floor periods, in our state’s 167-year history -- when honest, accountable and transparent state government was systematically dismantled in favor of hyper-partisan political advantage, retroactive decriminalization, and revenge," the group said in a statement.
The conservative group Americans for Prosperity, meanwhile, praised Walker for his signings Wednesday, saying GAB "worked in secret to launch partisan assaults on protected free speech and its own political enemies."
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