In testimony for a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, agency Director Kevin Kennedy testified he contacted his personal friend, former Internal Revenue Service Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner, for help investigating state conservative groups as part of a search for evidence that would support allegations Gov. Scott Walker (R) and political organizations violated campaign finance laws.
Kennedy testified he reached out to Lerner for help in January and February 2013.
Since 2013, Milwaukee County district attorneys and Government Accountability Board (GAB) investigators have seized individuals’ personal records and property, using the state’s “John Doe” laws to operate under a veil of secrecy.
Despite finding no evidence of illegal activity, the prosecution continued until the state’s Supreme Court ordered the termination of the case in July 2015.
Beginning in 2010, employees of the Internal Revenue Service’s Exempt Organizations division, which was supervised by Lerner, violated agency policies by singling out organizations for audits based on a group’s name or policy positions, preventing conservative organizations from receiving tax-exempt donations in the run-up to the 2012 elections.
Eric O’Keefe, president of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of GAB’s targets and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, says the state ethics commission is mad with power.
“The GAB was granted sweeping powers by the legislature which created it,” O’Keefe said. “Included in those powers were overseeing ethics enforcement and campaign finance regulations. GAB came to see itself as responsible for overseeing the [Wisconsin State Legislature] and political organizations, while being accountable to nobody.”
Unaccountable Accountability Board
O’Keefe says voters, not government bureaucrats such as Kennedy or Lerner, should hold the real power in government.
“There is no such thing as a government-funded watchdog that is ‘independent,'” O’Keefe said. “The power granted to such an entity is taken directly from the Legislature and the people. It is a goal of the authoritarians to reduce the influence of voters and to empower a permanent government to rule over us. GAB pursued that goal with vigor. We, the people, should be the ones to hold politicians accountable.”
Bradley Smith, a law professor at Capital University and former Federal Election Commission member, says government power corrupts absolutely.
“Voters must come to grips with the idea that if you give government power, you cannot presume it will not be abused,” Smith said. “Quite the opposite: [The Founding Fathers] presumed it would be abused, which is why they sought to limit power. Campaign finance laws, by definition, are about regulating citizen speech and political activity, a core activity at the heart of our democracy and the First Amendment. You cannot have a benign speech police, and at some point, they will come after you.”
Michael Bates ([email protected]) writes from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Waukesha County Circuit Court, “Eric O’Keefe, and Wisconsin Club for Growth v. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and Kevin J. Kennedy: Plaintiffs’ Brief In Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgement”: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/eric-okeefe-and-wisconsin-club-growth-inc-v-wisconsin-government-accountability-boa/