MacIver News Service | Sept. 5, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON – In late February, following a bruising confirmation battle in the state Senate, Wisconsin Elections Commission chief Michael Haas offered the bureaucrat’s version of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “Old Soldiers” speech.
Haas, effectively fired by the Republican-led Senate in January, ended an agency-led resistance movement and announced he would leave the Elections administrator post.
“It is time for the foolishness to end,” Haas wrote to the commission. “…(T)he agency cannot afford to be distracted by my status and must focus on moving forward.”
Haas publicly stated that he would work temporarily with the commission as a staff attorney, but “intends to eventually leave the agency to pursue other opportunities.”
In other words, old bureaucrats never die; they just fade away.
But Haas has been fading for six months now, as his temporary work with state elections lingers on. In fact, the elections official widely criticized for his involvement in the unconstitutional John Doe investigation was spotted last month at the state municipal clerks conference.
Some lawmakers and clerks have questioned why Haas remains with the agency so long after he announced his intentions to leave.
Haas told MacIver News Service that his “long-term intent” remains to leave the agency when he feels “the timing is right.” He wrote in an email last week that he does not have a specific date in mind.
“After the Senate did not confirm my appointment, I returned to my previous civil service position of Staff Counsel,” Haas wrote. “In that role, I handle legal matters for the Commission and work with the agency staff to administer federal and state election laws. I have also assisted the new Interim Administrator with the transition.”
The former elections chief is earning $46.18 an hour as a staff attorney, approximately $94,000 a year, according to the state Department of Administration. That’s a $30,000 pay cut from the administrator position, but it all goes toward a healthy Wisconsin public servant pension awaiting the 10-year state government employee.
After protesting the Senate’s party-line vote rejecting Haas’ confirmation as permanent administrator, the commission voted to appoint assistant administrator Meagan Wolfe to the interim elections chief position. Haas was able to bump into the staff counsel position under the state’s civil service rules.
Earlier, in open defiance of the Senate’s decision – and the body’s constitutional “advice and consent” authority – the Elections Commission had voted 4-2 to appoint Haas again as interim administrator. It was an attempted political end-around to a legislative decision.
When Haas ultimately said he would leave, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he wasn’t sure what to think of Haas’ decision to stand down, and Haas’ printed diatribe explaining it. Fitzgerald said he was suspicious about Haas’ motives, and didn’t buy the bureaucrat’s selfless government servant routine.
“I’m glad he’s gone, I just don’t know what the fallout from it will be yet,” the majority leader told MacIver News Service Tuesday. A half year later, though, Haas isn’t gone.
Despite his statements to the contrary, a good deal of evidence shows that Haas was a key player in the abusive John Doe probe when he served in the elections division of the disbanded state Government Accountability Board.
A state Department of Justice investigation into the GAB, the predecessor of the Wisconsin Elections and Ethics commissions, found the GAB badly mishandled court-sealed John Doe records, and that someone from inside the GAB likely leaked records to a liberal publication. The investigation also found that a former agent in the politically driven John Doe probe maintained “evidence,” hundreds of thousands of professional and personal emails, labeled as “opposition research.”
Haas, who once worked in Democratic politics and twice ran for public office as a Dem, said he “decided not to spend additional time, effort and resources in the negative environment of litigation.”
Haas took parting shots at Republican senators, some of whom the John Doe investigation illegally targeted, in his swan song to the commission.
“Rather than celebrating (the WEC’s) success and taking credit for it, some have focused on settling scores with imaginary ghosts of the Government Accountability Board. My appointment was a casualty of that obsession.”
Conservative citizens who had their homes raided before dawn, who had their possessions illegally taken from them, who were constantly told that if they said anything about the secret investigation they could go to jail, will tell you that they are the real casualties of abusive government agents.
Several emails released in a lawsuit against the GAB show Haas’ involvement, from the inception of John Doe II, which targeted dozens of right-of-center groups and individuals. Yet, the bureaucrat continued to insist that the GAB, the partner of the highly partisan Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office during the John Doe probe, did nothing wrong.
Fitzgerald in February noted that Attorney General Brad Schimel has been given legislative authority to expand his previous investigation into the GAB leak.
“At some point (Schimel) will come up with additional findings way beyond what he did in the leak investigation and hopefully that will tell the whole story and everyone will be fully aware of how corrupt the GAB was,” Fitzgerald said.
Several months later, it is unclear where an expanded investigation stands, and whether there will be any charges stemming from a politically driven John Doe investigation that the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional more than four years ago.
The latest John Doe judge overseeing the epilogue to what has been described as one of the darkest chapters in Wisconsin history, was asked to hold several John Doe agents in contempt of court. It is unclear where those secret proceedings stand. Meanwhile, a former GAB attorney who helped lead the John Doe probe was referred for discipline to the Office of Lawyer Regulation. It’s not clear where that matter stands.
In his letter to the Elections Commission, Haas acknowledged that it would probably be a distraction to remain in the administrator position, “Given the fixation of some in the Senate on removing me from agency service.” So, he wrote, his plan was to pursue other professional opportunities “in the near future.”
Six months later, the future is not now for elections bureaucrat Michael Haas.