It's up to Scott Walker to help Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

2013-06-21T08:00:00Z It's up to Scott Walker to help Wisconsin Center for Investigative JournalismJACK CRAVER | The Capital Times | jcraver@madison.com madison.com

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism is now at the mercy of Gov. Scott Walker as to whether it will stay housed on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

As GOP leaders promised, the state Senate voted to maintain a budget provision that will kick the nonprofit group off the UW campus, where it currently occupies two offices as part of a rent-free "facilities use agreement" with the UW School of Journalism. An amendment offered by Democrats Thursday to remove the provision was voted down, 17-16. GOP Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center joined all Democrats in voting for the doomed amendment. 

Walker could prevent WCIJ's eviction, which was tucked in the 2013-15 state budget by the Joint Finance Committee, by using his powerful partial veto, which allows him to eliminate words and sentences from the budget.

Will he do it? It's anybody's guess. WCIJ executive director Andy Hall offered no prediction. But he did say the outpouring of support from fans and fellow journalists has been inspiring, and that the organization will emerge stronger as a result.

"We have more friends in more places now than before," he said, pointing to the hundreds who signed an online petition in support of the center, including many who have been inspired to give money in the wake of the unexpected legislation, attributed to Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette.

But despite the strong criticism Hall has levied at those supporting the legislation, he said he and his organization are limited in what they can do to fight back. As a 501(c)(3) organization, WCIJ is only allowed to do a certain amount of lobbying or it risks its nonprofit tax status. 

But perhaps even more importantly, Hall and his colleagues are career journalists and — contrary to what some Republicans at the Capitol have implied — are unaccustomed to being political advocates. While WCIJ writers have occasionally editorialized in favor of open government and open records, they are likely unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the practices that most advocacy groups engage in to win political battles. Organizing protests or phone banks are not skills one learns in journalism school.

It's a unique situation, to say the least.

"So far, no one has been able to tell me when another U.S. news organization has ever been the specific, sole target of a law," said Hall. "Perhaps Wisconsin's political leaders are making history."

Beyond prohibiting WCIJ from being housed on university property, the legislation also bars UW employees from "doing any work related to the Center ... as part of their duties as UW employees." Currently, UW faculty and staff regularly collaborate on investigative projects with WCIJ. 

So what happens if WCIJ has to leave campus? Hall said he has received "multiple generous offers" from other journalists across the state to house the center's staff. WCIJ's employees, who currently make do with two small rooms in Vilas Hall, would not likely have to search far and wide for acceptable accommodations.

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(19) Comments

  1. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - June 23, 2013 10:50 am
    You haven't been following this story, have you? The reason the WCIJ gets those 2 "free" rooms is because they're providing in-kind services to the UW Journalism School — a demo site of a working newsroom and internship training, both right on campus, no travel necessary. It's a model for what other J schools thruout the country probably SHOULD be doing. But of course the Legislature needs to micromanage the curriculum for the UW whenever they get irritated. So the real victims here are the journalism students — probably not one of the governor's biggest constituencies, so I'm sure he'll have no qualms about throwing them under the bus.
  2. MadCityYokal
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    MadCityYokal - June 22, 2013 9:40 pm
    A "True Believer" Budget:
    Beware of people
    Who "know" they go to Heaven
    Following ALEC
  3. Eileen Wright
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    Eileen Wright - June 22, 2013 7:29 pm
    Yep. Pat Schneider is really good at that too....(giggle)
  4. MJS
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    MJS - June 22, 2013 9:35 am
    So much for.....
    "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere," they wrote, "we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found."
  5. WI_Expat
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    WI_Expat - June 21, 2013 11:44 pm
    "contrary to what some Republicans at the Capitol have implied — are unaccustomed to being political advocates"

    Hey Hall, all you need to do is call Mary Spicuzza and she'll show you all the ropes on how to be a political advocate and pretend to still be a reporter outside of the story!
  6. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - June 21, 2013 10:51 pm
    Why would any investigative journalism group want anything to do with government? Or for the UW for that matter. Two of the biggest institutions in the state. They are the most likely to be investigated by good journalists. We need great investigative journalism. But historically our best has NOT come from academia. It's come from independent news organizations. NYT. Wash Post. Put the center at Madison Newspapers and keep its hands clean. No investigative journalist's fate should be in the hands of a politician, state budget or either party. Good grief.
  7. Eileen Wright
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    Eileen Wright - June 21, 2013 6:35 pm
    LOL...Well, I'm pretty sure you won't find any university staff working with the maciver institute.... that's a silly comparison
  8. Eileen Wright
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    Eileen Wright - June 21, 2013 6:31 pm
    "...career journalists...are unaccustomed to being political advocates."
    WHAT???? DUDE ARE YOU BLIND?!?
    Aaah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.... that's the silliest thing I"ve read this week, and it's been a doozy of a week.
  9. Retired PE
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    Retired PE - June 21, 2013 3:47 pm
    Walker to the rescue for investigative journalism!? Yeah, like that's gonna happen! Good grief, that's the last thing Walker wants in this state is any type of investigative journalism. I say that Walker probably put this act into the budget himself behind the scenes. He is vindicative as we all know from his Milwaukee County scandal to throwing out the UW-P student. I just wish this state had some or any investigative journalists other than some on the Cap. Times. We need more because there is a LOT to uncover here.
  10. WI_Expat
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    WI_Expat - June 21, 2013 1:06 pm
    Human, google the last several years of WCIJ and tell us how many were covered from a progressive standpoint (asking only liberals about an issue and not getting opposing statements). Then look at the reverse.

    It is clear that the WCIJ is hiding behind journalistic claims when they are in fact a political activist organization!
  11. kashka-kat
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    kashka-kat - June 21, 2013 11:32 am
    A friendly suggestion: google difference in 501 (c)3 and 501 (c)4 - and then get back to us.
  12. human
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    human - June 21, 2013 11:14 am
    501(c)(3) organizations are not supposed to engage in political *advocacy.* Political dialog is fine. Anyway, the WCIJ is not political -- they're investigative journalists, so what they do is turn over rocks and document what's underneath. It's not their fault that what they usually find under those rocks is Republicans.

    Anyway, aren't the people howling for WCIJ's scalp they same ones complaining that King Street Patriots did not get 501(c)3 as soon as they applied. King Street Patriots, remember, are the group behind True the Vote, which intervened in a big way on Walker's side in the recall election. If they're a "charitable" organization, the bar has been set pretty low.
  13. WI_Expat
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    WI_Expat - June 21, 2013 10:57 am
    Isn't it those advocating the WCIJ the same people that only a couple weeks ago crying that groups that participate in political dialog should not qualify or get 501(c)3 status?????

    WCIJ is very much a single sided political reporting tool of the left in spite of Hall's cow eyed attempts to claim otherwise.

    Not only do they not need space and ready resources of the UW System, they too need to have their 501(c)3 status placed in the indefinite review, with no decision one way or other, by the IRS.
  14. jimri
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    jimri - June 21, 2013 10:29 am
    Scott Walker should remove the language that prohibits UW employees from working with the center, but keep the eviction in place. Not wanting the state to subsidize what has become an openly partisan group is fine, but Walker should also realize that trying to restrict the UW professors from working with this group isn't kosher. Both sides then get to claim a win.
  15. human
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    human - June 21, 2013 10:26 am
    The worst part of the anti-WCIJ provision is not the "eviction" -- as the article says, the Center will have no trouble finding other quarters -- but the rule barring University staff from having anything to do with them.

    If you take this ban seriously, it would mean that Deborah Blum, for example, would be violating the law if she called up WCIJ to arrange internships for some of her students, or if she invited Bill Lueders to come speak to a class. I'm not show what the state would do if she disobeyed the law (would they have her fired? Would the Attorney-General go to court to seek an injunction?) but it's bound to have a chilling effect, and diminish academic freedom and freedom of the press.

    Let's imagine the Democrats were back in power, and they slipped something in the budget to forbid University staff from working with the MacIver Institute. I'm sure the Republicans would scream bloody murder.
  16. Stuck In The Middle With You
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    Stuck In The Middle With You - June 21, 2013 9:47 am
    Sorry but you just can't make a zero into a hero.
  17. DaTruth
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    DaTruth - June 21, 2013 9:04 am
    Worry not, investigators, the mad Hungarian (George Soros), will cut you a fatty and you will probably get nicer digs. Yes, by all means, protect your 501(c)(3) status - if you lost it and had to re-apply, you might get turned down by the IRS. Oooops, nope, you are not "neutral" enough.
  18. toobad
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    toobad - June 21, 2013 8:52 am
    Why are these propagandists in training entitled to benefits not available to others?? Throw'em out or make them pay rent like everybody else.
  19. Nav
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    Nav - June 21, 2013 8:21 am
    Well chances are VERY good that Governor Walker will NOT veto the bill. He wants to complete a long list for the tea partiers to show how he made many "bold" decisions. when he is running for President next year.

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