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With John Doe Limits in Place, Lawmakers Consider Changes to Campaign Contribution Limits, GAB

Bryan Wolf, flickr

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill late last week, which prevents John Doe probes of lawmakers.

The probes are secret investigations conducted by prosecutors who suspect wrongdoing.

The technique was used twice to investigate dealings regarding Walker. The first looked into activities in his office when he was Milwaukee County executive. The probe turned up a variety of violations, including staff campaigning while on county time. About a half dozen of Walker's aides or associates faced criminal charges. Walker was never charged.

The second John Doe probe, which sprung from information uncovered in the first, involved whether Walker's recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups, which supported him. The state Supreme Court sided with Walker and the groups.

Democrats accuse Republicans of backing the bill that prevents John Doe probes of lawmakers in retaliation for the two investigations. GOP lawmakers deny the allegation.

Meanwhile, legislators still plan to vote on two other significant measures related to campaigns and elections.

One would dismantle the Government Accountability Board, the state agency that oversees elections. The Republican proposal would replace the GAB with an elections commission and an ethics commission.

Some Republicans have accused the agency of partisan attacks on the GOP because the GAB approved the John Doe investigation relating to Walker's recall campaign. Other Republicans say the board did not live up to expectations when legislators created it in 2007. The GAB argues it remains a nonpartisan agency, which was legislators' intent when they created it in 2007. Democrats argue that it will become tougher for the state to investigate or prosecute political corruption, with the GAB dismantled.

The second measure before legislators would make a number of changes to state campaign finance law, including allowing corporations to give unlimited contributions directly to political parties and campaign committees. 

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the campaign finance and GAB items within the next week or so as they seek to wrap up their work on the floor of the Legislature until early next year.

Ann-Elise Henzl became News Director in September 2017.
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