As Walker Tries to Gut the Open Records Law, CMD Fights Back



On Wednesday afternoon, the Center for Media and Democracy filed the latest round in its lawsuit against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for unlawfully withholding public records related to his office's alteration of the University of Wisconsin System's mission statement and the "Wisconsin Idea."

"Walker's office continues fighting for secrecy, despite broad public backlash against the failed effort to gut the open records law via a last-minute budget amendment," said Brendan Fischer, CMD General Counsel, who filed the suit. "Now that Walker has abandoned his presidential campaign, he should also abandon this flawed attack on the state's open records law."

Walker's lawyers are claiming that documents showing his office's role in changes to the century-old "Wisconsin Idea"--the idea that state universities have a mission to "serve people beyond the borders of the campus"--must be kept secret to protect the "deliberative process," a concept not recognized under Wisconsin law.

"Walker is trying to import loopholes from federal FOIA law into Wisconsin law, which is contrary to decades of state precedent favoring disclosure," Fischer said.

CMD's filing describes how the scales weigh heavily in favor of disclosure, since the withheld records pertain to a matter of significant public interest: the two-year budget, the single most important piece of legislation in a biennial legislative session. Additionally, the brief notes, courts have long held that "evidence of official cover-up" is a compelling reason that records should be disclosed--a matter at issue in this case, following Walker's "drafting error" claims that earned him a "Pants on Fire" rating from Politifact.

Walker's legal team is seeking additional justifications to keep the documents secret, and are now claiming the records aren't "records" at all, and instead "drafts" or "preliminary computations," an assertion that is contrary to Wisconsin's long traditions of government openness. Former state Representative David Clarenbach, who helped draft those provisions of the law over thirty years ago, filed an affidavit in the case declaring that Walker was warping the intent of the law.

"What is Governor Walker so desperate to hide?" added Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

Read the brief here, supporting exhibits here, and Rep. Clarenbach's affidavit here.