Brad Schimel’s Gaggy Gag Order

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

September 14, 2018

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel should be ashamed of himself.

On August 10, he sent an email around the Department of Justice telling employees that they needed to sign a nondisclosure agreement, according to the indefatigable Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This gag order would apply “even after they leave the state,” Bice wrote.

Schimel also tried to shame them into signing it, as “the email included a spreadsheet with the names of 129 employees who had yet to sign it,” Bice reported.

Such a nondisclosure agreement is something you’d expect from Donald Trump but it’s not the way we do things here in Wisconsin.

Former Gov. Jim Doyle told Mark Sommerhauser of the Wisconsin State Journal: “I never asked anyone, or even thought of asking anyone, to sign a non-disclosure agreement as either Attorney General or Governor.”

And Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t had staffers sign such an agreement either, Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg told Sommerhauser.

Schimel’s gaggy gag order comes at a time not only when Schimel is running for reelection but also in the wake of a tell-all book by Ed Wall, former secretary of corrections under Walker. In that book, entitled “Unethical,” Wall is highly critical of both Walker and Schimel.

Fundamentally, Schimel’s gag order violates the revered Wisconsin principle of openness and transparency in government, a principle that Schimel himself has pretended to champion.

For instance, when Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos tried to exempt legislators from the open records law and impose a lifetime gag order on legislative staff over the July 4 weekend in 2015, Schimel denounced the effort.

But now he’s one the imposing the gag order.

He needs to rescind that offer. And if he’s not going to do that, he should at least have the decency to return the “openness in government” award he received from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council back in 2016.