Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 20, 2019
MADISON — Stop us if you’ve heard this one before … a news organization is suing Gov. Tony Evers on charges his administration failed to follow the state’s open records law.
Evers’ abuse of open records statutes is becoming a broken record.
This week, Fox6 News, represented by the Wisconsin Transparency Project, became the latest news outlet to file a lawsuit against the governor.
You’ll recall that Fox6 reporter Amanda St. Hilaire had the audacity to file a request seeking all emails between the governor and his chief of staff over a four-week period. Evers’ legal counsel rejected the request, insisting it was too broad and burdensome.
St. Hilaire pared back her request, seeking only a week’s worth of emails.
She then asked for just a day’s worth. Evers told her that would be “pretty boring.” He said if he sent out one email a day, “that’s an extraordinary day.”
Eventually, Evers’ legal team relented — most likely on the threat of lawsuit. His office claims the governor is making an “exception” to St. Hilaire and that he could deny a similar request.
“He made a conscious choice to not turn over these emails when he could,” Tom Kamenick, founder and president of the Transparency Project, told Empower Wisconsin. “He’s looking for a way not to be transparent. That’s not the behavior of a governor committed to transparency, that’s the behavior of somebody looking to release as little as possible.”
It also raises a critical question: What is Evers, his chief of staff and the governor’s legal staff hiding?
It’s just the latest lawsuit alleging the governor has violated the state’s open records laws and the First Amendment. Earlier this year, the MacIver Institute sued Evers in federal court on closed-door allegations. Empower Wisconsin’s executive director, Matt Kittle, is named as a nominal plaintiff. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty has sued the state Department of Public Instruction and the agency’s handpicked successor of the governor, who previously served as DPI superintendent. That lawsuit, too, involves transparency problems.
If the governor can restrict or deny public information to news outlets, what is the administration doing with records requests from average citizens who may not have the same legal resources at their disposal?
“That’s one of the reasons Fox6 is bringing this lawsuit. They know a lot of ordinary people will get the same response from the governor,” Kamenick said. “They are doing this as a way to protect everybody.”
Attorney General Josh Kaul, who is supposed to defend the state’s laws, is representing the governor in the lawsuit.