Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature are seeking approval to spend up to $680,000 in taxpayer money on an investigation into the 2020 presidential election in the battleground state won by President Joe Biden.
The Assembly Organization Committee, controlled by Republicans, circulated a ballot on Friday to approve designating former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman as special counsel to lead the investigation, assist the Assembly Elections Committee and hire investigators and others as needed.
The expenses were not specified, but Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who ordered the probe, said in an interview that the contract with Gableman will be for up to $680,000 for the entire investigation. The committee will vote on the spending by Monday without holding a public hearing.
The investigation is in addition to one underway by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau. That review was also ordered by Republicans.
Biden defeated then-President Donald Trump by just under 21,000 votes in Wisconsin. The result withstood numerous court challenges and a recount in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Dane counties. However, Republicans have called for investigations and pursued numerous law changes since then designed to toughen election laws.
Vos originally hired Gableman to do the election probe for $44,000 and hired three investigators at an additional cost of $28,800. But Gableman’s new budget will be more than nine times bigger. Details on what the money will be spent on will be released Monday after the funding is approved, Vos said.
He said Gableman will use the money for a variety of purposes, including hiring investigators. Gableman has already traveled to Arizona to speak with Republicans working on an audit there and attended an event in South Dakota hosted by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell.
Gableman told the AP at the time that the trips were part of his fact-finding for the investigation. The Arizona audit has been widely discredited and purveyors of election conspiracy theories attended the Lindell event.
Vos’ discloser of the much bigger budget comes after he met with Trump last week and promised a full investigation. Republican state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, chairwoman of the Assembly Elections Committee, is spearheading yet another investigation and issued subpoenas to election clerks in Brown and Milwaukee counties, but the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorneys have said they’re not valid unless Vos signs them.
Vos has said he will sign subpoenas sought by Gableman, but not Brandtjen, if they are needed. Reince Priebus, the former state and national Republican Party director, said earlier this week that he anticipated subpoenas to be issued within a couple of weeks.
Democrats have excoriated the various investigations as a continuation of the “big lie” that Trump won, when there is no evidence of fraud on the level that would overturn Biden’s win in Wisconsin. To date, prosecutors have brought charges against just two people for election fraud out of nearly 3.3 million people who voted in the state.
Vos and other Republicans have said their intent is not to change the outcome of the election, but to look for existing election laws that need improvement or new proposals. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, earlier this month vetoed a series of Republican bills that would have made it more difficult to vote absentee.
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