MADISON — Attorney General Josh Kaul tweeted out his support for Sunshine Week, praising Wisconsin for being a “leader in government transparency.”
It was, until Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers showed up.
Evers may be the most closed-government governor in Wisconsin history. And Kaul, while he applauds his office for responding to “many open government issues,” has been an abject failure in standing up for Wisconsin’s open record laws.
Let’s look at the record.
In one of his first acts as governor, Evers got rid of a public website created by his predecessor, Gov. Scott Walker, that tracked progress on public records requests submitted to state agencies. A report by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty showed the glacial pace of the Evers administration in responding to records requests. The governor’s spokeswoman at the time lied and said that Evers was responding to requests faster than Walker did. The evidence then — and now — contradicts the flack’s assertion.
Evers barred MacIver News Service, a conservative news outlet that has covered the Capitol for more than a decade, from a budget briefing the governor held with the rest of the Capitol press corps. Instead of standing up for journalism and open government, Kaul defended his fellow Democrat and argued to lock MacIver out.
Evers has tried to lock out other media outlets and lawmakers as well. Fox6 News in Milwaukee had to take the governor to court after his legal team refused to release just one day of Evers’ emails with his chief of staff. A Dane County judge ruled the governor’s office had an “incorrect interpretation” of the state’s open records law. The legal battle spanned a year.
In May 2020, the governor settled an open records lawsuit with then-state Rep. John Nygren. The Evers administration agreed to release more than 10,000 pages of documents to the Marinette Republican and pay $40,000 in attorney fees. Of course, taxpayers paid the bill.
Nygren had first filed his open records request in August 2019 — about eight months before Evers finally relented.
And then there’s the matter of the secret recordings. Evers’ staff pulled a Nixon on Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and then-Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), surreptitiously recording a meeting with the Republican leaders.
Wisconsin’s attorney general, who likes to send out #SunshineWeek hashtags, is all appearances. In any one of the myriad instances where Team Evers broke the open records law, the chief defender and enforcer of that law could have stepped in. He didn’t. He didn’t say a word.
Evers and Kaul have done great damage to government transparency. These shadow dwellers have no businesses standing in the light of Sunshine Week.