October: Evers can do better on openness

Early in his administration, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers was asked to produce a letter he’d gotten from departing Gov. Scott Walker, during the transition. He initially refused, claiming it was a “purely personal” communication outside of the reach of the state’s open records law. When the Associated Press asked me for comment, in my role […]

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September: Lawmakers use costs to rebuff records requests

In May, as the state Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee considered a plan to spend far less on education than what Democrat Gov. Tony Evers proposed, Sheila Plotkin started filing public records requests. Plotkin asked nearly every member of the Joint Finance Committee for correspondence they had received from Wisconsin residents about education funding. All of […]

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July: Lawsuit put end to abusive practice

Wisconsin’s open records law applies to all records requests, big or small. But under former Attorney General Brad Schimel, the Wisconsin Department of Justice implemented a restrictive policy that limited access based on the number of potentially responsive emails. After being sued by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the Justice Department rescinded its […]

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December: Wisconsin lawmakers embrace secrecy, fast-tracking

This spring, I taught an investigative reporting class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that investigated the state of Wisconsin’s democracy. We interviewed current and former lawmakers and activists on the left and right, consulted public opinion polls, talked to regular people and tapped experts who study voting, redistricting and money in politics. The conclusion: Many […]

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November: Racine case shows folly of official secrecy

Secrecy in government, compounded by court-ordered secrecy, gives rise to speculation and rumor. That never serves the public interest. A case involving Racine City Attorney Scott Letteney and Racine Alderperson Sandy Weidner illustrates that very well. Last August, the city attorney sought an ethics violation sanction against the alderperson for sharing allegedly confidential communications from […]

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May: UW loses big when it tries to keep secrets

When UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee released records about sexual misconduct complaints to news organizations last month, they heavily redacted the documents and refused to identify numerous employees who were found to have committed wrongdoing. Should media outlets sue to challenge those redactions, history suggests they’ll have a good shot at prevailing. We are the authors of […]

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April: Policies put public health at risk

Wisconsin’s open government laws were meant to strengthen our democracy by ensuring an informed electorate. But, sometimes, transparency is about more than democracy—it is about human health, with serious consequences when transparency fails. Earlier this year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the city of Milwaukee had failed to alert thousands of families whose children […]

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