Vos extends Gableman investigation after ‘gold standard’ audit concludes

The Gableman investigation will extend into the summer as a new Marquette poll shows that would benefit Republicans politically

MADISON, Wis. — Just months after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the Legislative Audit Bureau the “gold standard,” he extended a competing investigation into the summer, pushing it up against the Aug. 9 primary.

Vos had said he would close down the investigation by former Justice Michael Gableman this week, but the speaker relented Tuesday to pressure from former President Donald Trump to keep the investigation going.

Prolonging the election investigation comes with significant political benefits for Republicans — the latest Marquette Law School Poll released Wednesday shows Republicans who doubt the results of the 2020 election are 150% more enthusiastic to vote in November than those who are confident in the 2020 results.

Vos said he will keep the Gableman investigation to the original $676,000 price tag despite extending the former justice’s contract. In a letter obtained by WisPolitics.com, Gableman offered to reduce his salary to $1, instead of $11,000 monthly, to allow the investigation to continue.

What’s the difference between the LAB and Gableman’s investigation?

The differences between the Legislative Audit Bureau and the Gableman investigation come down to both scope and process. The LAB is empowered by the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee to follow a narrowly-tailored scope statement and has some statutory power.

“It’s our understanding that they get to stand in the shoes of the agency that they’re auditing,” said Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, whose agency worked with the LAB during the audit.

“So that’s why you’ll see that they have unique statutory authority and access to things like our statewide voter registration database,” she added. “And so they are one of the very few entities that is established in state law that is able to have access to those things.”

Gableman’s authority comes from a contract he signed with Vos to do work on behalf of the Assembly. To get access to the documents, he would have to issue subpoenas for them on behalf of the Legislature — the legality of which is being decided by the courts in July.

The difference also comes down to process. The LAB declined press requests during their process, while Gableman would occasionally take to conservative talk radio to make his case. He received criticism for one instance earlier this month when he disparaged Wolfe’s appearance during a segment on WTAQ-AM.

Outside of these controlled appearances on conservative radio, Gableman did push for secrecy during his investigation.

“In any kind of sophisticated investigation, there are going to be times when information should not be shared in real time,” Gableman said during a Nov. 10, 2021 exchange with Democrats on the Assembly elections committee.

“So that was a no?” asked Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, about holding Gableman’s proceedings in public.

“What’s your next question?” Gableman responded.

“It really does not appear to have been a serious investigation into the facts,” said Mike Haas, former WEC administrator.

Haas is Madison’s city attorney and represented Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway in the Gableman subpoena process.

“The city of Madison, as we’ve said many times, has produced over 17,000 pages of records,” he said. “We don’t have any real sense that Attorney Gableman has reviewed those at any length.”

Both investigations yielded overlapping conclusions

At the end of its audit, the LAB made 30 recommendations to the WEC on how to better administer elections. The recommendations included providing more training for municipal clerks to run elections locally and better data sharing between state agencies.

RELATED: LAB review of Madison records does not lead to changes in 2020 election audit findings

In a March 31 letter, the commission provided an update on the progress toward those recommendations.

“We have been able to implement a lot of those recommendations fully already,” Wolfe said.

Some require promulgating an administrative rule, however — a more robust process that could take a matter of years.

In his conclusion, Gableman largely reiterated the same changes proposed by the LAB but added recommendations for “political accountability” that include abolishing the WEC altogether.