Less than three weeks after being forced to retreat from scaling back Wisconsin's open records law, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos put his aides back to work on elements of the controversial proposal, new documents show.
Records released Tuesday showed that an aide to Vos requested a new legislative draft on July 23, seeking a bill to give the Legislature and individual lawmakers a different status on open records from other government bodies and officials in Wisconsin. The documents were made public by the liberal Center on Media and Democracy in Madison, which acquired them under the open records law....
Under the proposal, lawmakers would make their own emails, memos and other documents subject to legislative rules, rather than the open records law. As such, they could rewrite their rules of proceeding to restrict which of their records would be publicly available.
That would allow either house to set its own rules limiting access to records without having to get the approval of the other house or the governor, as now required.
These people clearly have something major to hide, and are so full of themselves and disrespectful of the public that they think they can get away with this.
The thanks for exposing this scheme goes out to the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy, who filed the open records requests and connected the dots between the more recent moves by Robbin' Vos and the notorious 999 measure that was attempted to be jammed in the state budget bill (and immediately withdrawn after major outrage across the political spectrum during the holiday weekend).
As the CMD mentions, these moves were not something that Speaker Vos came up with on the spur of the moment, but were instead calculated maneuvers done in concert with Gov Scott Walker's office.
In addition, emails released by Speaker Vos’s office reveal that the strategy of hiding the changes and then springing them on the public at the last minute was carefully worked out at least six weeks in advance of introduction. On May 26, Vos’ staff says the plan to gut the open records law will be introduced on “the last day [of the budget process] under a [Rep. John] Nygren motion.”The CMD also has released an impressive timetable that shows not only how the drafting of the open records changes went about, but also ties it back to CMD's lawsuit from February which exposed Gov Walker's office as being the ones who attempted to strike "the search for truth" and the Wisconsin Idea from the University of Wisconsin's missions statement in Walker's budget.
Newly-obtained emails also provide further evidence of the Walker administration’s role in adding a broad “deliberative materials” exemption to the law. Shortly after a June 3 meeting with the Governor’s office, a Vos staffer sends an email to LRB and Legislative Counsel drafting attorneys: “Sorry for the rollercoaster ride, but I think all of the privilege language (ie – the “big” draft) is back on the table.”
Two weeks later, the drafting request for a “deliberative process exception”—which is also the subject of a lawsuit CMD has filed against the governor—was submitted via an email with the subject line “Governor's request.” A week later, an LRB drafting attorney suggests that the “deliberative materials” exception be removed from the proposal, unless it was “specifically asked for by the governor” – and the provision was left in.
The new emails also contain two drafts of misleading talking points, here and here, that were used to spin the public on the reasons for the changes to the law. On June 14, a Vos staffer asks the LRB to fact-check a one-page set of talking points arguing for closing LRB drafting files since these “are mostly used for ‘gotcha’ games between political foes,” but he frets, “there is a decent chance that the press will get a hold of this.” Then, after the proposal to gut the public records law provoked public outrage, Vos’ office created a second set of talking points on July 3 that are rife with factual inaccuracies and deceptive assertions.
CMD goes onto note that Gov Walker's office started to deny open records requests in early May, and gave a now-familiar set of excuses for doing so.
The main two arguments are that 1) the public interest in exposing the records is not outweighed by the purported public interest in protecting the “deliberative process” involved in developing the budget; 2)the records requested do not constitute “records” as per the statutory definition, which excludes drafts and preliminary documents....And of course, the infamous 999 motion mentioned "deliberative process" as the main protection that could be used to deny open records claims. Funny how these guys just happened to be on the same page with this, isn't it?
Nearly identical denials were given to several other organizations and news outlets, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal
Not a coincidence at all, as the CMD notes an email on June 3 where one Vos aide sends an email message to another with the subject of "governor's meeting," and she asks the other aide "Do you want to come? We will likely talk about the open records thing today." The spin in most regular media is that this is a Robbin' Vos and Wisconsin Legislature production, but it's pretty clear from the CMD's timetable that the Governor's Office had significant input, and there's a legitimate question as to whether the initial orders to try to jam this into the budget were top-down from Walker's office.
That said, it's certainly possible that this was bottom-up from an increasingly Fascist Legislature that continually has attempted to remove any kind of checks on its power that could result from independent agencies and independent research, and one that has consistently tried to limit the public's right to know who is influencing their elected officials. Maybe these arrogant bastards think they are immune due to their gerrymandered districts and lazy constituents, and that's why they think they can continually push their luck after the public has constantly told them NO.
But I'm starting to think they've already gone a step too far, and with 8 months left in the Legislative session, there are likely more power-grabs and foolishness still to come. Perhaps this pressing of their luck will lead to a much steeper electoral price to pay than the Wisconsin GOP is gambling on in 2016.
God knows these scumbags deserve to.