The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council has awarded the "Citizen Openness Award" to the Center for Media and Democracy for its efforts to bring sunshine to government operations in 2012.
"We are honored to receive the Citizen Openness Award, and will continue working to ensure our elected officials remain transparent and responsive to the people of Wisconsin," said CMD General Counsel Brendan Fischer, who filed the lawsuit.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Common Cause filed suit in October 2012 after five Wisconsin lawmakers repeatedly refused to comply with lawful requests for their ALEC-related public records, including correspondence held in personal email accounts. CMD has been investigating the American Legislative Exchange Council since analyzing over 800 ALEC bills provided to CMD by a whistleblower and since launching the website ALECexposed.org in July 2011. (CMD has received multiple journalism awards for its investigation of ALEC and our work was featured in a Bill Moyers documentary "United States of ALEC" in September 2012). Open records requests have been one of the key ways to identify the secretive organization's influence over law and policy in Wisconsin and elsewhere since it communicates extensively with lawmakers about bills it wants introduced and passed but claims it does no lobbying and does not register or file lobbying reports.
In September 2012, however, some Wisconsin legislators attempted to evade their responsibilities by shifting their ALEC-related correspondence to personal Gmail or Yahoo accounts, and claiming they did not have to release these public records in response to a lawful request.
As part of the settlement agreement, the five legislators admitted that ALEC-related records were held on their personal email accounts and are covered by the Open Records Law. The lawsuit and settlement served as a reminder to elected officials that they cannot evade their transparency responsibilities by moving their official correspondence onto a personal e-mail account.
"It is through such battles that the records law stays strong," the Wisconsin FOIC says in their press release.
Also receiving the Citizen Openness Award is the MacIver Institute, which is currently suing a Democratic lawmaker trying to shield identifying information from thousands of emails. Other award recipients include the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Matt Johnson of the Vernon County Broadcaster.
The awards will be presented at the Wisconsin Watchdog Awards Dinner in Madison on April 24.