State Rep. misused government resources, according to GAB document

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
Dane county voters overwhelmingly agreed with Hesselbein on the issue of voter registration.

State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) admitted to the Government Accountability Board (GAB) that she used state resources to promote a ballot initiative prior to the spring 2013 election.

According to a settlement agreement signed by Hesselbein and dated August 30, the lawmaker violated state ethics rules when she issued a press release using state resources urging citizens to vote yes on a non-binding Dane County referendum opposing the abolition of same-day voter registration.

She paid the GAB a forfeiture of $200 as part of the agreement.

Hesselbein, who was elected to the state legislature in 2012, is a former member of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School board and still holds her seat as the District 9 supervisor on the Dane County Board.

According to the GAB, Hesselbein issued the press release, as well as posting it on her legislative website, approximately three weeks prior to the April election. By signing the settlement, Hesselbein acknowledged that she “used legislative resources in drafting and posting the press release.”

The GAB went on to allege that by advocating in favor of a specific vote on a ballot referendum, Hesselbein’s release fell into the category of a political communication under state statute 11.01 (16).

By signing the settlement, Hesselbein accepted responsibility “for not having been more conscientious in ensuring that state resources not be used in producing and issuing the press release.”

The press release in question was quoted at length in an article on the Middleton Times-Tribune’s website. In it, Hesselbein called the referendum “the most important question voting citizens will answer” in the spring election.

The question that appeared on the ballot was: “Should the state of Wisconsin continue to allow people to register to vote at the polls on Election Day.” Is passed by a wide margin, with 82 percent of those who cast a ballot indicating they support same-day registration.

With Republicans arguing that eliminating Election Day registration would help reduce the risk of voter fraud, Democrats said their conservative counterparts were simply attempting to prevent demographics that are traditionally liberal from taking part in the democratic process.

“Same day registration allows voters who are not registered at their current residence to fill out their voter registration application, prove their eligibility to vote at the polling place, and then act upon their constitutional right by voting,” said Hesselbein in her press release. “Those who benefit from same day registration are those who recently turned 18, individuals who may have recently moved, or people voting for the first time.”

“Registration applications are processed by trained, sworn election officials who ensure the legitimacy of the voter’s information,” she continued.  

A bill introduced last session by Republican legislators intended to eliminate same day voter registration. Hesselbein said those pushing to abolish same-day registration “seek to disenfranchise Wisconsin voters with anti-democracy measures.

The GAB reported additional costs to state government if same day registration were eliminated would rise between $11,262,880 and $16,254,112 over an initial two-year period.

“Wisconsin must not restrict the citizen’s role in government, but we should instead continue to increase accessibility, transparency and participation in our democratic process,” Hesselbein concluded. “We cannot compromise the ability of thoughtful citizens to express their voice at the ballot box.”







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