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Capital City Sunday: Vos defends taxpayer-funded election investigation; educators decry denied surplus funding

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The state's top Republican lawmaker says he's justified in giving outside investigators nearly $10,000 each to review the 2020 presidential election.

Details of the investigators' contracts were first reported Thursday by the Associated Press. Vos' office did not respond Friday to a request for copies of the contracts, which according to the report, pay $3,200 per month for a three-month period.

On Wednesday, Vos granted 27 News a one-on-one interview and defended the use of public resources to launch another investigation into the election; the Legislative Audit Bureau is also in the midst of its own review.

Vos said he did not expect the investigation to find former President Donald Trump actually won the state. He instead said the effort was intended to shine a light on what he called "irregularities" in a cycle when many more voted cast absentee ballots due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Approximately 50,000 people voted for one of the eight Republicans running for Congress in Wisconsin but did not vote for Donald Trump," Vos said. "So the issue is not solely one of voter fraud or election integrity; that's a huge part of it, which is why we're spending a disproportionate amount of time on making sure that the system is fair."

Ben Wikler, Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the investigation - which includes a former Milwaukee detective with known ties to conservative groups - was really cover to pass legislation that makes it harder for people to vote.

"This investigation is a sham," Wikler said. "The whole idea is to kick up dust in order to justify voter suppression bills."

When asked for proof of irregularities that would constitute illegally cast ballots, Vos cited a nursing home in Racine County.

"We have folks in a nursing home where they actually filled out the ballots for the residents who were not necessarily able to cast the ballots themselves because they weren't of the mental condition to be able to choose between the candidates on the ballot," Vos said.

When asked whether her office is investigating such claims, Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson said she had no comment through a spokesperson.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is aware of 13 cases of possible voter fraud Wisconsin clerks referred to district attorneys.

WEC spokesperson Reid Magney said more cases could still come as the commission is still in the process of reviewing possible instances of felons casting illegal ballots and would search later on this year for cases of people voting in multiple states.

However, it's extremely unlikely there would be enough cases to come remotely close to the 20,000 votes by which President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin; voter fraud has proven rare in recent history and is not confined to one party.

No Surplus for Schools

Educators rallied at the State Capitol and across the state Monday in protest of the GOP-controlled legislature's decision to not reopen the K-12 budget after learning expected tax collections were now $4.4 billion greater than previously estimated.

Republicans instead stuck with an increase of less than $150 million; Governor Evers wanted to boost spending by more than $1.5 billion.

"Our schools need that money when you think about what we collectively value in the state of Wisconsin, also coming out of the pandemic," said State Superintendent-elect Jill Underly. "I had fully expected that the Joint Finance Committee would agree."

Vos, and other GOP leaders, have said schools are getting plenty in federal coronavirus relief. They point to the state's biggest districts, Milwaukee and Madison, getting $800 million and $70 million, respectively.

Vos maintained those dollars should count toward Republicans' claim they've increased education spending by $2,900 a student even though hardly any of that figure comes from state money.

"Once again, it's taxpayer dollars one way or the other," Vos said.

Underly said, the federal dollars should only go toward pandemic-related measures - either getting kids caught up from a staggered school year or making improvements to facilities that will better prepare districts should anything like the COVID-19 pandemic happen again.

"[The relief money] was intended to help with mental health, it was intended to help with infrastructure," Underly said. "When you look at the ages of our buildings, it was intended to go to HVAC systems and learning loss."

Playing Field Shifting

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA in a decision legal experts say could lead to more challenges to the college sports governing body's amateurism model.

NCAA v. Alston was limited in scope to the education benefits scholarship athletes can receive, with the court ruling 9-0 the NCAA cannot place a limit on educational benefits.

Marquette University sports law professor Matthew Mitten said the next frontier is determining a standard set of name, image, and likeness rules allowing student-athletes to make endorsement deals.

Mitten said the challenge now is states having a patchwork of laws where some allow athletes to enter into such deals and others don't.

"There really needs to be a uniform national standard, just like the rules of the game," Mitten said. "Eligibility rules for sports at the varying levels of competition, they need to be uniform."

According to the Business of College Sports, 20 states, including Michigan, have enacted laws allowing student-athletes to profit off their own name and image.

Five other states' legislatures, including Illinois, have passed NIL bills and are waiting on the governor's signature. According to the tracker, Wisconsin is the only state to not even introduce a bill on the matter. Vos said earlier this week Republicans discussed the matter in the last session, but there is currently no bill being drafted.

"Likely what we're going to see is an NCAA policy that says each school should comply, in fact they must, with the specific NIL rights laws in their respective states," Mitten said.

Mitten added the NCAA would likely then direct schools in states without NIL laws to develop their own policies allowing student-athletes to capitalize on their own brand.

The University of Wisconsin has already reached a deal with a private company to help advise Badger athletes on how to navigate business deals once they're allowed to do so, either via NCAA rules or a state law.

Mitten said the challenge for states, the NCAA, and Congress is how to allow athletes to make deals without turning it into a contest between university boosters to make the most lucrative offer.

"The only question is what sort of restrictions ought to be in place to make sure this isn't used as an under the table recruiting deal?" Mitten said.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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