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.


peopl here in Wisconsin are definitely pushing for walker and his group to be ousted. it's a shame that those that signed the petitions did not follow through and vote. this state has yet to see the damage the he has created!

The only people who think the protesters were mostly bused in from out of state are those who did not attend the protests and interact with the protesters. They were misinformed by Walker's corrupt government and chose to believe the lies. That is why Walker won the recall. He lied with TV ads for 6 months saying everything's fine, while we plunged from near the top in job creation to near the bottom and our school class sizes increased. And I still can't believe how many people don't know that several people were charged with felonies for spending their public employee time helping Walker, their boss in Milwaukee, campaign for governor. Somehow they set up a secret email system (read the court documents) and spent at least half their week campaigning, but their boss in the room down the hall had no idea? He's either criminally incompetent or completely corrupt. I say both.

I still find it amazing that many on the right still claim it was people being bused in from illionios, there was easily enough signatures for recall. Walker's saving grace was that many people didn't beleive that it should be done by recall, to claim its cause how popular Walker is a lie. Check his approval ratings now and when the recalled happened, neither were on the positve side.

Protesters are just that, protesters. They can be from anywhere and it doesn't matter because they won't vote.

The majority of people in WI were fooled into voting for Walker in 2010, based on painting a dark picture of Gov. Doyle. The recall vote of Walker didn't work simply because the majority of voters voted against the recall process, and didn't want it to be used as the norm against legislation. In other words, the majority didn't support Walker, they just opposed the recall. Many, many people stated "let him (Walker) complete his 4 years, and then we'll get rid of him." And that is what will happen in 2014, given Walker has nothing positive to put on his resume: he did not balance the budget (refinanced $1 billion and made the middle class pay), he pushed charter / voucher schools (which have been proven to fall far behind public schools), he's attacked voters' rights (which everyone sees as just plain stupid given there is no voter fraud), he's lost taxpayers' money with his failed investment scheme, he escaped criminal charges for his time in Milwaukee County by spending enough money, he's tried to kill education and dismiss the great public teachers (to create more uneducated Republican voters), and worst of all Walker has removed over $2 billion dollars from the WI economy with his failed Act10 (which has caused hundreds of thousands of public workers to cut back spending, and thus it's killed businesses and lost jobs in WI). Walker will be voted out in 2014... lesson learned by those easily fooled.

This behavior on behalf of the WI GOP is immoral, illegal, unethical and just plain wrong. Heads should roll, congressmen should be indicted, nothing in government should be hidden from WE THE PEOPLE. It is totally unjustified except that the GOP feels it is above the law and anything done in their name has the blessings of God, in other words to them, the almighty DOLLAR! Get the bums' asses OUT of CONGRESS! Prosecute them! Jail them! Hell, get out the tar and feathers, I'll light the match! I saw it done in "John Adams" and it's not pretty, but I'll strike the match and with it a blow for WE THE PEOPLE (just in case they forgot whom they are SUPPOSED to be working for! CD

and don't forget how he is selling our beautiful, pristine northern woods to a Florida mining company, which has already polluted Illinois. None of us was asked.

Out of state money elected him, & out of state money kept him in office- Pure and simple. He's been a failure who'll have to create some 260,000 jobs to meet his 250,000 goal. 44th in the nation for job creation.

When a partisan linked firm called Command Central (that uses the eye in the pyramid as their logo nonetheless) run by a person who was fired from their previous job for refusing to take an ethics exam controlls all the voting machines (many of which leave no paper trail), it is foolish to assume that it is "the people" voting these criminals in.

"Why do they keep electing them?" ... uh... you realize that the point of gerrymandering is to prevent the voters from being represented fairly, right? If it was as simple as majority rule with fair district lines, they wouldn't elect these crooks.