Pair of State Legislators’ Effort to Protect GOP Anti-Voter Laws May Violate Ethics Statute

Sen. Wanggaard and Rep. Kathy Bernier ‘Piling Sleaze on Top of Sleaze’

MADISON, Wis. — State Senator Van Wanggaard and Representative Kathy Bernier are seeking to intervene and argue against a federal lawsuit filed by eight plaintiffs including One Wisconsin Institute seeking to protect Wisconsinites’ right to vote. According to One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross, not only is their support for laws making it harder for people to vote disturbing, but also their participation potentially runs afoul of state ethics laws.

Ross commented, “Not only do Wanggaard and Bernier support new laws that protect their own political prospects by making it harder for Wisconsinites to have their say on election day, now they’re potentially violating state ethics laws to try make sure these measures stay in place when they’re on the ballot.”

The suit in which the pair of state elected officials, along with two local elected officials and two Republican Party activists, are seeking to intervene seeks to strike down various restrictive voting measures put in place by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican State Legislature since 2011, as well as a law that limits municipalities to a single location for early voting.

The complaint outlines more than a dozen policies that have made voting in Wisconsin more challenging for eligible citizens, including turning back progress around early voting, creating additional obstacles for voter registration, and passing a law that enables intrusive and intimidating election monitoring. The complaint also brings new challenges to the voter ID law.

Wanggaard and Bernier say in their brief that they intend to stand for election in 2018 and 2016 respectively and that their re-election prospects are threatened if laws they supported to give themselves a partisan political advantage are overturned by the courts.

Neither state official has disclosed how their legal bills will be paid. Under state ethics laws, Chapter 19.45(2) elected officials are prohibited from accepting payments by means of legal expenses unless they are able to prove that those expenses are unrelated to their public office.

A previous effort by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and then-Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer was found to have run afoul of these ethics laws by the Government Accountability Board. After withdrawing from the lawsuit it was revealed that Vos and Ziegelbauer intended to have their legal bills covered by Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee.

“In their zeal to protect laws giving them an unfair political advantage, Wanggaard and Bernier are piling sleaze on top of sleaze. The ethics line is bright and shining and they appear to be ignoring it. Someone is paying for these legal fees and Wanggaard and Bernier need to come clean immediately about who is footing the bills,” concluded Ross.

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