Creatures of the Dark: Wisconsin GOP Caught Deleting Records, Again

New federal court filings allege that hundreds of thousands of Republican redistricting files in Wisconsin were deleted last year, in defiance of court orders to turn over all documents. The deletions fit into a pattern of the Wisconsin GOP covering their tracks and could result in sanctions for the attorneys or individuals involved in deleting the files.

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott FitzgeraldAccording to the April 18 court filings, a forensic analysis of computers used during redistricting indicates multiple files were deleted just after Republicans were instructed to turn them over to Democrats -- but before they had actually done so.

In January 2012, after the three-judge federal panel hearing a Democratic challenge to the redistricting maps ordered Republicans to produce all redistricting-related records, someone with the user name of an aide to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald logged-on to GOP computers and deleted files and folders. In July, just after Democrats took control of the state senate and asked for the entire redistricting folder, another Fitzgerald aide's login was used to delete hundreds of thousands of records.

Though the legal challenge to the redistricting maps was resolved over a year ago, mounting evidence of deleted files and possible misrepresentation by Republicans and their attorneys led the court to order a forensic analysis of the computers to recover deletions and assess the level of wrongdoing.

The entire redistricting process has been marked by an unprecedented level of secrecy. And the stakes are high for the Republican legislature's law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, whose lawyers have been sharply criticized by the court for their handling of the case. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus is a partner at the Wisconsin-based firm, though he is currently on leave while he leads the RNC.

"Shameful" and "Needlessly Secret" Redistricting Kept Public in Dark

With Republicans in charge of the Assembly, Senate, and Governor's mansion after the 2010 election, they had the legislative majority to gerrymander congressional maps to their party's benefit, and did so in the offices of Michael Best & Friedrich, apparently to try and keep the process protected under attorney-client privilege. The maps were promptly challenged by immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, and the federal court hearing the case sharply criticized Republican lawmakers for conducting redistricting under a veil of secrecy and shutting the public out of the process, calling it "shameful," "sharply partisan," and "needlessly secret."

In December 2011, the court demanded that Republicans turn over nearly all documents related to redistricting, but the GOP and their lawyers at Michael Best & Friedrich continued working to keep the material confidential -- leading the court to fine the attorneys $17,500 in fees for filing frivolous motions.

As the federal court ruled on Wisconsin's maps in February of 2012, the Center for Media and Democracy (publishers of revealed that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had invited legislators to redistricting conference calls, based on emails obtained through earlier open records requests to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

The emails CMD obtained were not released to the lawyers challenging the maps. But they should have been. This failure to release all redistricting-related documents opened a new round of legal wrangling, with the court questioning what other documents Republican legislators and their lawyers had kept secret. Additional documents that should have been produced were found when Democrats took control of the state senate after the July 2012 recall elections and obtained access to the Republican redistricting file.

In February of 2013, the Court ordered Republicans to turn over computers used in redistricting for expert forensic analysis, because judges found that "fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct" likely occurred.

According to the April 18 court filings, the analysis so far indicates files were deleted on at least two separate occasions: on January 6, "just after the Court's order [to turn over the documents] and just before the legislature's supplemental production," and on July 25, which was one week "after majority control of the state senate shifted [and] the new majority leader requested Michael Best's redistricting file," and one week before "Michael Best turned over its redistricting file to the new senate majority leader."

Fitzgerald ORR response

In other contexts, CMD has encountered patterns of Republican legislators deleting files, thanks to a loophole in the state open records law exempting legislators from records retention rules that apply to all other government officials. Sen. Fitzgerald -- whose office is at the center of the redistricting litigation -- in the past had released hundreds of documents in response to requests for ALEC-related records, but is now issuing replies like this one to a records request for ALEC communications: "If we did receive materials (from ALEC), either electronically or via mail, those materials were discarded upon receipt."

Taxpayer Costs of Defending Secrecy Continue to Rise

Recent court filings show that over $100,000 has been spent on the initial stages of the forensic analysis, largely because of the complexity of reconstructing deleted files. Wiping software that could have been used to remove electronic data and hide deleted files had been installed on some hard drives, further complicating the reconstruction. According to the court filings, two-thirds of the costs moving forward will be incurred in locating and reconstructing the deleted files. "Had data not been deleted, the investigation could proceed at a fraction of the cost," the filings state.

Plaintiffs are seeking to have the legislature -- or its attorneys -- cover the cost of the examination before continuing.

So far, taxpayers have been on the hook for at least $2 million in legal fees to defend the GOP's "shameful" redistricting effort, and costs will likely continue to rise.


Of course, there was no Koch money or out of state interests involved getting him re-elected, all of his support came from hard working Wisconsinites and their millions of small dollar contributions.... NOT!

"it was largely the Dem busing people in from out of state (namely IL)" is such hogwash. I was there, there were farmers police and firefighters and local Wisconsinites. More fiction, from those that wish to taint one of the largest protests at the state capitol on record. Bussed in from IL is such a a complete load of unadulterated crap, how many busses would it take to get over 100,000 people from IL?

You don't have the first clue about what happened during the protests or what "most" people in WI think......please don't deign to speak for those who can actually think for themselves....

some people don't recognize when they are getting screwed because they can't see the big picture. They focus on the bread crumbs thrown to them and the splitting done with hate that confuses them. Reducing everyone's income so few can buy the goods and products in Wisconsin is poor governance. Renewed a contract for ginseng; so what. He could have done that on the phone as he talked with the fake Koch. Gotta wonder if his trip was really to discuss Wisconsin farmland sales to foreigners so our farmers can become tenants and rent it back. Think the locals can compete with China's money to buy land? Look what he wants to do to the Wisconsin landscape with unrestricted mining. Walker made it clear he wanted to lift the restrictions on foreign owned land in Wisconsin. I have found no one in favor of actually selling Wisconsin to foreigners except perhaps Walker and his administration, and puppet republican legislators. Oddly, Republican Governor Brandstad of Iowa was also recently in China on a trade trip; more farmland for sale perhaps? Finally, I also wonder if the positive comment here isn't really someone who works for Walker. Most of the people in Wisconsin are wising up; there are always a few slow learners perhaps but it will come too late for them.

Dear Anonymous "Not Exactly," as a Wisconsin resident for the last 39 years, I disagree that "..most people here are not against the gov...." in part because over a million people signed the recall petitions, and Republicans did not win the state national or state elections in 2012, and the only reason we have a Republican majority in the state legislature is entirely due to the redistricting which is the subject of this article. His school choice plan is not going to fly even with his own party, and the only reason they passed the mining bill in the Senate was that the Republicans and their Koch brothers spent millions to defeat Sen. Jess King in Oshkosh. Polls following the recall election indicated that some voters believed that no politician should be recalled unless they commit a crime while in office, not that the "gov" enjoys widespread support. The pro-Walker voter I spoke to on the eve of the recall election was as poorly informed as many Walker supporters about the consequences of getting rid of unions (his family had no health insurance after he lost his union job where he had insurance). Wisconsin is 44th nationally in job creation, which was Scott Walker's big campaign promise. He thinks he's got a national future, which is why he's rarely in the state and even less often in the Capitol, and doesn't really give a hoot about us here in Wisconsin. His rejection of high speed rail and Medicaid funds is costing us big time, both in jobs and actual health care dollars, but looks good to his Tea Party fans.

Only time.will.tell on what you say the evidence will tell the truth in the end and if it comes out that it is true fire his ass and put someone else in office that will be honest and true too all the people.

bussed in from where? people here in Wisconsin are definitely pushing for walker and his group to be ousted. this state has yet to see the damage the he has created!

Why would the Republicans be shredding documents if not to cover up wrong doing? Someone needs to go to jail in order to stop this pattern of behavior.