by Matthew Rothschild and Scot Ross
March 9, 2018
The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council could not have picked a worse recipient for its political openness award than Scott Walker.
According to its press release, Walker received this award from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council for signing a document directing others in the employ of state government to “improve their performance on open record requests.”
This is ironic when considering three former Walker administration cabinet secretaries say they were instructed not to put anything important in writing so as to get around the very open records law that this award is applauding him for upholding.
Ironic, but also consistent with Walker’s body of work. Documents revealed that when Walker was Milwaukee County Executive and running for governor, his campaign staff berated public employees to be more political and slow down compliance with requests made under the open records law.
There are many more examples of the disqualifying lack of -- if not outright hostility toward -- openness in government displayed by Scott Walker over his quarter century in what, when speaking of others receiving state assistance, he derisively refers to as the government hammock.
Consider how, for six years or roughly 2,200 days, Gov. Walker has refused to disclose the identity or identities of those who contributed over $446,000 to a criminal legal defense fund. He used these anonymous funds to pay attorneys he retained in the course of investigations of political corruption in his campaign and among close aides and associates.
Not content to keep information about his own finances from public view, Walker has actively sought to expand this lack of transparency to others. With his signing of the disastrous campaign finance rewrite of 2015, Walker eliminated the requirement to disclose the name of the employer of each donor who gives more than $100. This makes it much harder to find out if there are special favors being given to those employers in return.
Walker’s new law makes it much harder to track who is trying to influence our elections by exempting from registration requirements independent expenditure groups or PACs that don’t spend more than 50 percent of their expenditures in Wisconsin during a campaign year.
His signature also allowed candidates to secretly coordinate with outside issue advocacy groups than can receive unlimited donations and spend unlimited amounts, without ever having to disclose the names of their donors.
The public pays for the mansion where Gov. Walker now lives. But in response to a request for the log of comings and goings at the mansion made by One Wisconsin Now that took nearly half a year to fulfill, Gov. Walker’s administration claimed they had no records for a six-month period and, deeming them “transitory records,” claimed it had no obligation to even maintain them.
As Governor, Scott Walker has undermined openness and transparency in state government and shown disregard for both the spirit and the letter of the state open records law. For that he deserves jeers, not cheers, from the state Freedom of Information Council.
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Scot Ross is the Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now.