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Former GAB member: Kinney did 'right thing' in resigning from Ethics Commission 'doomed to failure'Submitted: 01/10/2017

Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter
bmeyer@wjfw.com


RHINELANDER - Two months ago, retired Rhinelander Judge Robert Kinney fired off strong words while announcing his resignation from the state's Ethics Commission.

He criticized the attitude, secrecy, and inaction of the new board, which was created to oversee campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws in Wisconsin.

Kinney seems to share frustrations with another retired Rhinelander judge, Tim Vocke.


"[The Ethics Commission] was doomed to failure, in my opinion," Vocke said. "It was simply ignoring eight years of success and going back to the bad old days."

Vocke served during five of the eight years that the Government Accountability Board existed. Five retired judges at a time joined him on the panel.

The GAB was created in 2008, replacing the state Ethics and Elections boards, which had been around since 1973. Legislators created the GAB in response to partisan caucus scandals in the 2000s.

But in 2015, Republicans in power in Madison voted to scrap the nonpartisan GAB and go back to something with similar-sounding names to previous panels. They created the Ethics and Elections commissions. Each commission is made up of partisan appointees.

The Republican move to dissolve the GAB in 2015 came after the board investigated possible coordination between outside conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker's 2012 campaign.

"With the Republicans, I wasn't surprised when they got angry," Vocke said. "We'd been angering them before because they were the majority party. They had the governor. We weren't doing what they wanted to do." 

"I think [those Republicans are] politicians, and they're looking out for themselves," he continued. "That's not something unique to Republicans. Both parties have been doing that."

After a few months serving on the new Ethics Commission, Kinney had had enough and resigned.

"I thought Judge Kinney did the right thing," Vocke said. "I thought it was a gutsy move."

In a year-end interview, Gov. Walker indicated an interest in hearing Kinney out.

"We made the offer to meet. Hopefully, we will, sometime after the start of the year," Walker said. "I don't know exactly what his frustration is."

Among other concerns, Kinney complained that members of the commission had an "observable lack of commitment" and that the panel's rules "require too much secrecy and too little transparency."

"The public is almost completely shut out of the process," he said.

To Vocke, those frustrations sound familiar.

"This is history repeating itself," Vocke said. "This is what happened before the GAB was formulated in the first place. Nothing was getting done."

Walker is in charge of naming Kinney's replacement to the Ethics Commission. He will select a new commissioner from a list of nominees provided by Democrats.


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