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'Gravely concerned' Wisconsin ethics board member resigns
11:27 AM, Dec 12, 2016
1:19 PM, Dec 12, 2016
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A member of Wisconsin's newly created Ethics Commission who resigned less than six months into his term issued a stinging rebuke of the fledgling agency on Monday, saying the partisan board won't enforce the law, is too secret and is purposefully set up to fail.
Robert Kinney, who spent more than 30 years as an Oneida County circuit judge, said in his statement that he announced his resignation at the Wisconsin Ethics Commission meeting last week. Kinney, one of three Democratic picks for the commission that also includes three Republican members, publicly tore into the board Monday as dysfunctional and unwilling to investigate or aggressively enforce campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws.
"People were unwilling to set aside their partisan agendas and actually enforce the law and I see no hope that's going to change," Kinney said in a telephone interview. "It's structured in such a way that was probably the purpose. It was a waste of my time."
Kinney said he made up his mind to resign after a decision that was made in closed session at the last meeting. He said he could not speak about the details, but he blasted the commission as being too secret.
"I've seen enough to make me gravely concerned about the message that is being sent by the commission: that the law will either not be enforced or it will not be aggressively enforced," Kinney said.
Democratic chairwoman of the commission Peg Lautenschlager and Republican vice chair Katie McCallum issued a joint statement thanking Kinney for his service but not commenting on the accusations he made. McCallum declined to comment further when reached by phone.
Gov. Scott Walker told reporters that he wanted to talk with Kinney about his concerns. Kinney was appointed by Walker, who made his selection from a pool of former judges forwarded by Democrats. The other Democratic members of the commission are Lautenschlager, a former attorney general, and Milwaukee attorney David Halbrooks.
The three Republican members are McCallum, the state GOP secretary; Pat Strachota, the former Assembly majority leader; and Mac Davis, a former Republican state senator and Waukesha County judge.
The Republican-controlled Legislature created the commission to replace the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board in July. The Wisconsin Elections Commission, also comprised of partisan appointees, was created at the same time to deal with running elections.
Kinney said the Ethics Commission is "like the Star Chamber in terms of keeping the public out."
"These are enforcement of campaign finance laws, ethics laws and lobbying laws," he said. "If there's one thing that's certain in my opinion, it's that the public has a right to know the specifics of complaints that have been made."
Kinney was on the losing end of a commission vote in August to ban donations by board members to the very politicians they are regulating. Kinney said Monday that the vote was not a factor in his decision to resign.
Kinney said the "opening salvo" was an October vote to strike language from the mission statement that its work included "furthering Wisconsin's tradition of clean and open government."
"What possible reason there would be to want to strike that aspirational language, I don't know," Kinney said.