Like a coven of blood sucking vampires, our state representatives are afraid of sunshine’s truth revealing power. What, a citizen might wonder, goes wrong when lobbyists and our representatives are hiding in the darkness away from the view of the electorate?
By Dennis Brault
The Commoner Call (10/23/17)
Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Wis. Stat. § 19.81 (2016) .
Declaration of policy(1) In recognition of the fact that a representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of this state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.
What a beautifully written policy. It’s hard to imagine that a legislature could declare such a policy and then go about flagrantly violating it themselves. But to their shame they have. To ours we’ve let them.
For example, the Wisconsin open meetings law “does not apply where it conflicts with a rule of the Legislature, senate, or assembly.” That means the assembly or senate can, any time they wish, simply legislate exemptions for themselves. And lately they’ve been exempting themselves a lot. What do Rep. Lee Nerison and his fellow GOP robbing hoods have to hide?
Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council writes that he had done an open records request of ,”Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) for records regarding a controversial bill he helped author on free-speech rights at state universities.”
When Lueders didn’t receive all the information regarding communications about the bill he asked why this was so. Vos aide Steve Fawcett explained: “Given that the Assembly is not under the duty to retain records in the normal course of business, it is likely that Alicia simply deleted the document(s) you inquired about prior to your initial request.”
Lueders goes on to explain:
“That’s because legislators exempted themselves from the records retention rules in place for every other state and local government employee. If the mayor of Oshkosh receives a complaint about a crack in a sidewalk, he must retain it for at least seven years. But a legislator who gets an email from a lobbyist urging a vote in exchange for a contribution can legally destroy it, absent a pending records request.”
Like a coven of blood sucking vampires, our representatives are afraid of the truth that sunshine reveals. What, a citizen might wonder, goes wrong when lobbyists and our representatives are hiding in the darkness away from the view of the electorate?
Wisconsin Supreme Court prefers the darkness too
Wisconsin Constitution: “The doors of each house shall be kept open except when the public welfare shall require secrecy.” In other words open the doors and let the sunshine in, the people’s right to know, unless secrecy is required.
However, if one thinks that the courts will help open the closed doors of state government, forget that. We’re not going to get any help from our current GOP-dominated state Supreme Court. Which in its 2011 ruling Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, decided that the Legislature’s adherence to the Open Meetings Law is not subject to judicial review, effectively exempting the Legislature from the law. That’s right, under the tyranny of one party rule, the GOP supreme court has slammed the doors shut on open state government.
Legislative black hole
Our state legislators have become experts at hiding their governmental doings from us voters. For many years now there’s been an exemption to the open meetings law that allows lobbyists and legislators to hide from voters. Any partisan (party) caucus of the senate or assembly is exempt. No sunshine is allowed in. There, in the darkness of these closed partisan political caucuses, hidden away from the sunshine of open government, our representatives seperate into the two parties. Both parties are free to secretly meet with special interest lobbyists to determine how your tax dollars will be spent, and what laws will be written. Since one party or the other will hold a majority in the assembly or senate, a quorum would be present. So any discussion or decisions made would in effect be a dark secret.
There is nothing open about our state government anymore. It has become a legislative black hole, filled with secret deals, payoffs and corruption. Our state was once a national example of open government. Wisconsin is now a case study in crony capitalism run amok. Perhaps that is what our local representative Rep. Lee Nerison and his fellow GOP robbing hoods have to hide? What else might they be hiding, that would make Nerison and the hoods afraid an informed electorate could find out about?
Because it’s our duty as citizen electors to demand that we be “entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government.” We must demand they bust down the doors, open the shades and let the sunshine in on the affairs of our state government.
Why not give Rep. Lee Nerison a call and let him know as a citizen you support – no, demand – open government. Tell Lee that you expect him to draft legislation closing the partisan caucus loophole. You can reach Lee at (888) 534-0096.
Or sling him an email at Rep.Nerison@legis.wisconsin.gov .
A Message to Rep. Nerison & Other Republican Representatives
Maybe Mr. Nerison should take a few minutes the next time he is in the Capitol to wander over to the bust of progressive reformer (and republican) Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette on the second level of the rotunda and contemplate what it really means to be a true representative of the people. As long as Rep. Nerison doesn’t speak out against closed meetings and corporate dark money in politics he is betraying his oath to represent the people of Wisconsin and doing the work of the darkest forces in the state.
Mark L. Taylor, Editor
The Commoner Call
(Commoner Call cartoon and photo by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free to use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )
What follows is a list of resources, put together by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, regarding open government in Wisconsin.
- The full text of the state’s Public Records Law. Tip: Search by key words like “fees,” “exempt,” “contractor,” etc.
- The full text of the state’s Open Meetings Law. Also key-word searchable.
- Public Records Compliance Outline produced by the office of the Wisconsin Attorney General, last updated in 2015. Contains links to referenced court rulings.
- Open Meetings Compliance Guide produced by the office of the Wisconsin Attorney General, last updated in 2015. Also has links to referenced rulings. The attorney general’s Office of Open Government has additional resources.
- Answers to frequently asked questions on the state’s Public Records and Open Meetings Laws as provided by the law firm of Godfrey & Kahn.
- Links to letters and opinions regarding public records and public meetings produced by the office of the Attorney General.
- Ten tips on “How to use the Open Records Law,” produced by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.
- A sample Open Records Request letter. Just fill in the blanks and send.
- A list of recurring Open Government Problem Areas, as identified by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.
- An archive of “Your Right to Know” columns on various open government topics, dating back to 2003, produced by the Freedom of Information Council. Click on list at left for prior years.
- Wisconsin Photographers Bill of Rights. Guidelines for where photography is allowed and where it is legally restricted.
- Rules on the use of cameras in state courtrooms, as prescribed by state law.
- Searchable guide of public notices published in state newspapers, maintained by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.
- Wisconsin Openness Report: Sign up to receive emails tracking articles regarding open records and meetings, as compiled by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.
- The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council’s “Legislative Wish List” — ways to improve public access to meetings and records
- Also read our Be Your Own Watchdog page for tips on tracking the actions of people in power.