Wisconsin Ethics Commission unanimously supports embattled leader as GOP senators plan ouster

MADISON — The boards of Wisconsin's top watchdog agencies are standing behind their leaders as Republican senators try to fire them.

Thursday, the state Ethics Commission voted 6-0 in a show of confidence for administrator Brian Bell. The vote puts the Republican-appointed members of the commission at odds with GOP senators, who have planned a January 23rd vote to oust Bell and Elections Commission administrator Michael Haas.

Brian Bell

Bell told commissioners he had nothing to do with the John Doe investigation carried out by the former Government Accountability Board, a case over which Republicans are now targeting him. He also explained why he left the GAB in 2014.

"I didn't necessarily always agree with how things operated (at the GAB)," Bell said.

Republican senators are targeting Bell and Haas because they worked at the GAB during the time the agency investigated Governor Scott Walker's 2012 campaign. Republicans call the investigation a politically motivated witch hunt.

Scott Walker

But the Republican-appointed commissioners of both agencies have all expressed confidence in Bell and Haas.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have called on Bell and Haas to resign. When the men indicated they would not, Fitzgerald threatened to hold a vote in late January and not confirm the administrators.

Brian Bell

"There are no plans to hold a public hearing at this time, and we are still planning on holding a confirmation vote on the senate floor on January 23rd," said Dan Romportl, Fitzgerald's chief of staff.

The Democratic-appointed chairman of the Elections Commission called Fitzgerald a coward for not holding a public hearing first.

Mark Thomsen

"I remain hopeful that there are Republican state senators who will tell Mr. Fitzgerald, 'Enough is enough,'" said Mark Thomsen, the Elections chairman.

Thomsen said he doesn't think the Senate has the authority to fire the administrators, but senators and some Republican membersof the Ethics Commission assert that the Senate does have the power. The question could trigger a legal standoff if GOP senators follow through on their planned vote this month.