A court judgment against Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has added another $135,000 to the cost of the Assembly Republicans’ investigation into the 2020 presidential election.
The ruling brings the total price tag attached to that investigation to almost $2.5 million in taxpayer dollars, according to a review by WisPolitics.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper ordered Vos to pay $135,574 in legal fees to American Oversight, a Washington, D.C.-based liberal group that filed lawsuits related to the handling of documents in the investigation by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
Schlipper cited a state statute finding that the government is responsible for attorney fees when it loses a public records case. Vos had argued that the state should not be responsible for covering a nonprofit’s fees, citing laws in Illinois and Ohio.
"Wisconsin’s public records law is not ambiguous and its interpretation requires no assistance from Illinois or Ohio courts," Schlipper wrote. "I award American Oversight its reasonable fees."
Schlipper also found that the Legislature may owe an additional $7,637, but that Vos has seven days to file objections.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Vos said he’d likely appeal this judgment and suggested that a "liberal Dane County judge" may have had political motivations.
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"Look, the investigation is over. We are moving forward. It is only these liberal activists who seem to can't let the 2020 election go. We've moved long on from that, so hopefully they will, too," he said.
Heather Sawyer, the executive director of American Oversight, said her group was "gratified" that Wisconsin courts had found in favor of the group's public records challenges.
"We're just hopeful that the speaker will live up to his word that he is turning the page and looking forward and not looking back to the 2020 election," she said. "And if that were true, we would hope that he would simply stop the appeals (and) affirm his … willingness to stand by public records obligations in Wisconsin."
Vos ordered an investigation into Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election in June 2021. It came to a halt last August when Vos fired Gableman, after the investigation turned up no evidence of widespread fraud behind President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Wisconsin. After Vos ended the investigation, he called Gableman "an embarrassment to the state."
The investigation, and Gableman himself, were subject to four lawsuits from American Oversight. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul also filed a lawsuit related to attempts to interview election officials privately. Kaul's lawsuit was dismissed in August.
A February review by WisPolitics found that the investigation itself cost about $525,877, but that private attorney fees for dealing with the lawsuits was nearing $1.5 million. That included about $400,000 for the Kaul lawsuit and about $1.1 million for the American Oversight suits.
With this latest judgment, American Oversight has prevailed in three cases relating to Gableman’s handling of records requests, amounting to $434,094 in fees, per WisPolitics.
Assembly Republicans originally budgeted $676,000 total in public funds for the investigation.