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Robert Kinney Resigns From Ethics Commission

'I Felt That It Was A Hopeless Situation,' Kinney Says Of Partisan Board

Wisconsin State Capitol
Jim (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of the inaugural members of Wisconsin’s new ethics commission has resigned, saying the commission is too private and too partisan to do the public’s business.

Robert Kinney was one of two former judges appointed to the commission by Gov. Scott Walker. Kinney spent more than 30 years as an Oneida County Judge. His name was on a list provided to Walker by Democrats.

The other members of the state Ethics Commission were appointed directly by legislative leaders from both parties, a system Kinney described as fundamentally flawed.

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“The fact is that certain members of the commission having been appointed on a partisan basis feel that they must carry the water for the individuals or groups that appointed them,” Kinney said. “As long as that’s the case and it blinds them to enforcement actions, it isn’t going to work.”

While Kinney praised the staff at the state Ethics agency, he said there was little effort among some commissioners to enforce Wisconsin’s campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.

Making matters worse, Kinney said, was the extreme secrecy under which state law required the ethics commission to operate, even during public meetings. For example, he said members of the public would sometimes make presentations about complaints at meetings but commissioners would be barred from talking to them, a system Kinney described as “goofy.”

“The fact that I made the decision I did make indicates that I felt that it was a hopeless situation,” Kinney said. “That it would not change and that there was nothing that I could do to influence things.”

Wisconsin Ethics Commission Chair Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat, and Vice-Chair Katie McCallum, a Republican, issued a joint statement on Kinney’s departure but made no reference to his criticisms.

“We would like to thank Judge Kinney for his service to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission and the State of Wisconsin,” Lautenschlager and McCallum wrote. “We are in contact with appointing authorities about the process for filling the vacancy.”

Republicans created Wisconsin’s ethics and elections commissions to replace Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, or GAB. While the new commissions are run by partisan appointees, the GAB was made up entirely of former judges.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with original WPR reporting.