Fitzgerald, Nass offices: Ethics Commission has opened probe of ‘partisan influence’ directed at agency administrator

The offices of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Sen. Steve Nass told WisPolitics.com they have been contacted by an attorney hired by the Ethics Commission to probe charges of “partisan influence” directed at agency Administrator Brian Bell.

The Ethics Commission declined comment Tuesday, citing confidentiality laws regarding agency investigations. But the contacts come a little more than two weeks after Bell asked the commission to launch an investigation into his conduct to clear his name following Republican calls for his resignation.

They also come amid an escalation in the standoff between Fitzgerald and Mark Thomsen. The Elections Commission chair Tuesday called the Senate GOP leader a “bully” for refusing to hold a confirmation hearing for agency Administrator Mike Haas, who also has been called upon to resign.

Fitzgerald has instead indicated he plans to have the Senate vote later this month on the nominations of Bell and Haas, having previously predicted they would “never” win enough support in the GOP-controlled Senate to win confirmation.

Mike Mikalsen, an aide to Nass, R-Whitewater, charged Tuesday the probe launched by the Ethics Commission was an “abusive process.”

“It’s an attempt to try to intimidate the Senate from taking action on a confirmation vote,” Mikalsen said.

Bell said while he could not comment on any possible investigation, he requested a probe because there were “allegations regarding my conduct and that an investigation could reveal whether or not there was any truth to those allegations.”

Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, signed onto letters last month urging Bell and Haas to resign. Meanwhile, Nass has been harshly critical of both administrators as well as other commission employees, calling for them to step down.

Fitzgerald chief of staff Dan Romportl declined comment on Monday’s calls other than saying the majority leader had not yet agreed to speak with attorney Patrick Fiedler, who identified himself as an investigator hired by the Ethics Commission. Mikalsen said Fiedler also called for Nass, but the lawmaker has not yet decided how to respond to the inquiry.

A spokeswoman for Vos did not immediately return a call this afternoon seeking comment. Neither did Fiedler.

Fiedler is a former U.S. attorney, Dane County judge and state Corrections secretary under GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson. His law firm bio says he also serves as an independent investigator for “public entities and private organizations.” He also represented investigator Dean Nickel, who worked for the GAB, in a lawsuit filed against those associated with John Doe II, a probe into coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and outside groups during the recalls.

See more in Tuesday’s PM Update.

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