Gov. Scott Walker has signed legislation dividing the GAB into two new agencies, starting the clock ticking on tasks to get the new entities running by July 1.
The legislation was one of 10 bills the guv signed Wednesday, including legislation doubling campaign contribution limits.
GAB Director Kevin Kennedy said work on the new commissions includes creating a transition plan with the Department of Administration, dividing the agency's staff among the new Elections and Ethics commissions, and creating new budget lines.
Also, Elections Division Administrator Michael Haas and Ethics Division Administrator Jonathan Becker will have to decide whether they want to apply for similar posts with the new agencies or bump back to attorney positions on staff.
Kennedy also said he's keeping his options open as to whether he will seek a role with the new agency. He does not have rights to transfer to the new agencies. But he could apply for the administrator jobs.
Kennedy, 63, noted there is a lot to do with the new agencies and he has more than three decades of experience working with Wisconsin's oversight bodies.
"It's an awful lot of expertise to leave on the table," Kennedy said.
Legislative leaders also can now start the process of filling out the members of the new commissions.
Under the legislation, the four legislative leaders each get one appointment to both six-member commissions. In addition, the leaders will create separate pools of candidates from which the guv will select the final Dem and GOP appointees to both bodies. The candidates for the Elections Commission must be municipal or county clerks, while the final slots for the Ethics Commission are reserved for retired judges.
Once the guv selects from those pools, each commission will have three Dem appointees and three Republican members.
The guv used his partial veto pen to nix a provision in the bill letting leggie leaders nominate up to three candidates for those final slots. That language would have let leaders, for example, put forward just one person, forcing Walker to nominate him or her. After his veto, each pool will have to include three candidates. Walker wrote in his veto message the move was to ensure he received "an adequate number of nominations."
Those commissions will then each hire an administrator, who can appoint other personnel to help carry out the agency's duties. That includes the power to designate an employee to serve as legal counsel.
Though the new commissions will not be official until July 1, the legislation lets members of both bodies begin their work before then. That includes attending GAB meetings as nonvoting members after March 1.
Kennedy said the board has reserved the Joint Finance Committee room for its meetings in April, May and June.
The four legislative leaders did not have an immediate comment on a timeline for filling their appointments and nominations.
Dems slammed Walker and Republicans for breaking up the GAB and overhauling campaign finance laws.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said under GOP rule, "Wisconsin is open for corruption and our era of clean, open and transparent government is over."
Meanwhile, One Wisconsin Now's Scot Ross slammed Walker.
"Instead of cleaning up his act and the acts of the people that work for him, he and the Republican-led legislature concocted a scheme to get rid of anti-corruption laws and people to enforce them," he said.
GOP Sen. Leah Vukmir, one of the GAB bill's lead authors, said reform "to this broken agency was long overdue" and pledged to keep close tabs on the transition to ensure the new agency is implemented as intended.
Wisconsin Club for Growth's Eric O'Keefe, who has sued the GAB over its role in John Doe II, said Wednesday the GAB and campaign finance re-write protect political speech.
"Today's signing by the Governor makes it official: We can once again engage in communicating about politics without fear of government raiding homes, seizing emails and silencing targets," he wrote in an email.