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Wisconsin ethics administrator returns to policy analyst job

Brian Bell

MADISON — Wisconsin Ethics Commission Administrator Brian Bell returned to his old job at the state Department of Safety and Professional Services on Thursday, two days after Senate Republicans refused to confirm his appointment to the commission.

DSPS Assistant Deputy Secretary Kirsten Reader told The Associated Press that Bell has returned to his job as a policy analyst and started work on Thursday. The policy analyst position pays $32,800 less per year than his administrator post.

His decision appears to end at least half of an ugly saga that began in December, when Republican legislators began demanding that he and Elections Commission Administrator Michael Haas resign. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he couldn’t trust either of them because they worked for the now-defunct Government Accountability Board.

The board helped prosecutors investigate whether Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign illegally colluded with outside groups. The conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court killed the probe in 2015 before anyone was charged, but the investigation still left Republicans outraged. They dismantled the board and created the Ethics and Elections Commissions to replace it.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted Tuesday against confirming Bell and Haas. The GOP argues the vote means both Bell and Haas are out and must return to their previous state jobs.

The Elections Commission voted 4-2 on Wednesday to defy the Senate and keep Haas in his administrator post through April. Fitzgerald has said the move means the state may have to sue to remove him.

The vote raised questions about whether the Ethics Commission might try to retain Bell, too. The panel was scheduled to meet late Thursday afternoon to decide what to do.

Hours before the meeting, Fitzgerald told The Associated Press that Ethics Commissioner Katie McCallum told him that she had spoken with Bell and he told her he was considering not seeking re-appointment out of concerns it might cost him his fallback position at DSPS. Bell didn’t return messages seeking confirmation of the conversation, and no listing could be found for McCallum.

Ethics Commission Chairman David Halbrooks didn’t immediately return a voicemail inquiring about what the commission might do now that Bell has apparently taken himself out of consideration for the administrator post.