Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 18, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The same speech cop who helped bring Wisconsin the infamous John Doe investigation is behind a couple of high profile bad decisions at the state Elections Commission.
Michael Haas, lead lawyer for the elections regulator, in early 2018 said he was taking his ball and going home after the Republican-controlled Legislature canned him as interim director of the agency. His departure was characterized as a “graceful exit.”
But Haas has stuck around like a bad penny, offering some bad legal advice along the way.
As MacIver News Service reported earlier this month, it was Haas who told Gov. Tony Evers that he could schedule a special election for U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy’s empty seat between Dec. 24 and Jan. 31.
Turns out the timeline would have been illegal under federal elections law. Overseas and military voters must be provided ballots at least 45 days prior to an election. Haas’ timeline gave just 29 days.
He did caution Evers’ legal team that it might not be a good idea to hold elections over the holiday season. Doing so would make time-strapped clerks cranky.
Evers announced he would hold the special election on Jan. 27, with the primary scheduled for Dec. 30. The governor was instantly panned for scheduling the latter over the holidays and both elections on Mondays — unprecedented in a state where elections are traditionally Tuesday affairs.
Haas reportedly also was in on the Wisconsin Election Commission’s decision to stubbornly stick to a voter-registration policy that puts voter integrity at risk.
The commission has decided to keep registered voters who have moved on the eligible voter rolls for as long as two years. State law clearly requires “movers” be removed from the database within 30 days.
“Any voters who do not register at their new address and do not return the continuation card within 30 days will be deactivated in WisVote,” the commission noted in a previous memo.
Last week, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sued the Elections Commission for violating state law.
In a memo earlier this year, Haas and crew told the commission it has the authority to bypass the 30-day requirement in state law because another law gives the regulator a blank check to create rules necessary to maintain the voter registration list.
That’s pretty much how Haas and his fellow speech cops operated at the Elections Commissions’ predecessor — the state Government Accountability Board.
The Legislature disbanded the GAB in 2016 after the agency was found to be a partner in the politically driven John Doe investigation. The Wisconsin Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the abusive probe — which included predawn, armed raids on the homes of state conservatives and the collection of millions of personal communications.
While Haas has downplayed his involvement, emails obtained through lawsuits show he was a key player in the illegal investigation.
Other courts found the GAB, which included both elections and ethics divisions, used its rule-making authority to create regulations so complicated that not even campaign finance lawyers would have a hard time understanding them.
Haas, who came to election regulation from Democratic Party politics, announced in February 2018 that he would leave the Wisconsin Elections Commission after the Republican-controlled Senate rejected his confirmation to lead the agency.
Haas said he planned to work temporarily as a commission attorney, but intended to “eventually leave to pursue other opportunities.”
Nearly two years after his “graceful exit,” Haas hangs on.