Ethics Commission Casts Vote Of Confidence In Bell Ahead Of Possible Ouster

It's The Latest Show Of Support For Ethics Administrator Brian Bell From The Bipartisan Commission

Wisconsin State Capitol
Rough Tough, Real Stuff (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Wisconsin’s Ethics Commission took a unanimous vote of confidence Thursday for Brian Bell, the agency’s administrator who could be forced out of his job by Republican senators later this month.

The vote was just the latest show of support for Bell by the commission, whose members are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Brian Bell, of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, at a December 2017 Ethics Commission meeting. Shawn Johnson/WPR

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Republican Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, announced the Senate would take the rare step of voting against Bell’s confirmation following an investigation by Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel.

Schimel’s report was sharply critical of members of the former Government Accountability Board for its role in a now-closed John Doe investigation involving Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups during the 2012 recall election.

Republicans have since disbanded the GAB and replaced it with an Elections Commission and an Ethics Commission, which Bell runs.

Bell previously worked for the GAB from March 2012 until September 2014, where he handled data and helped people use the state’s lobbying website.

During a question and answer session with commissioners Thursday, Bell said he didn’t always agree with how the former GAB operated.

“So, did you ever have anything to do with any of these John Does or related investigations I’ve read about in the paper?” asked Ethics Commissioner Mac Davis, a reserve judge and former Republican state lawmaker who was appointed by Walker.

“I had nothing to do with any investigations,” Bell responded.

In addition to Bell, the Senate may vote Tuesday, Jan. 23 against the confirmation of Elections Commission Administrator Mike Haas.

Haas, who also worked for the GAB, was more directly involved with the investigation known as John Doe 2, reviewing and editing court filings, according to Schimel’s report.

Haas has been praised by members of his commission, which is also split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Fitzgerald has said the Senate won’t hold a public hearing on the confirmations of Bell and Haas. The Ethics Commission had considered holding a hearing of its own, but decided against the move Thursday.

Bell recently asked the Ethics Commission to investigate him, arguing such a review would clear his name. While such an investigation would have to be kept secret, WisPolitics reported Fitzgerald’s office had been contacted by an investigator who was asking questions about Republican charges of “partisan influence” at the Ethics Commission.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the date the Senate may vote against the confirmation of Bell and Haas. The correct date is Tuesday, Jan. 24.