Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has declared war on the state’s open records standard.

His Department of Justice is arguing that legislators are immune from lawsuits demanding that they turn over records that the public has a clearly defined right to review.

If the attorney general’s lawless stance is accepted as the new normal in Gov. Scott Walker’s increasingly authoritarian Wisconsin, citizens would lose their right to demand information about what legislators are doing in their name and with their tax dollars. And the basic premises of democratic governance would be shredded.

Those premises are stated in the Wisconsin Constitution, which declares that “governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

It is impossible for the governed to give their consent if they cannot get answers to basic questions about what legislators are doing in their official capacity.

Attorneys general of both parties have historically defended the public’s right to know.

What Van Hollen is doing is unprecedented.

Legislators generally respond to open records requests, and past attorneys general have refused to provide aid to members of the Assembly and Senate who have been reluctant to follow the rules.

But Van Hollen is now arguing that state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, need not follow the rules because she is immune when the Legislature is in session from lawsuits seeking to compel a response to an open records request. Since the Legislature rarely if ever goes out of session, this new standard would mean that legislators would rarely if ever have to respect the state’s open records law.

"I think the attorney general's position is a radical misinterpretation of that (provisions that are supposed to outline a narrow measure of legislative immunity),” Susan Crawford, a Madison attorney who served as an assistant attorney general and as chief counsel to former Gov. Jim Doyle, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I've never heard a legislator asserting they're above the law, which is what (Vukmir’s) doing. You have to wonder what she's trying to hide."

What Vukmir has to hide are records of her involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a shadowy national group that works with corporations to develop so-called “model legislation” and then urges friendly legislators to enact that legislation. The Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy (with which The Capital Times has worked on a number of issues) sought those records from Vukmir. When she refused to turn them over, the group sued the senator.

According to affidavits filed in regard to the lawsuit, a Vukmir aide refused to accept paperwork associated with the open records request from a process server. The affidavit alleges that the Vukmir aide was belligerent.

That’s the point when a responsible attorney general should have stepped in to ensure that the law is followed.

Instead, Van Hollen’s office is alleged to have instructed Vukmir’s office on how to resist demands for its cooperation. And Van Hollen’s lawyers are in court trying to thwart an open records lawsuit.

The attorney general is Wisconsin’s chief law enforcement officer. He is supposed to serve the people of the state. Yet, in attempting to block action to guarantee the public’s right to know, Van Hollen is attacking the right of citizens to know what their government is doing in their name but without their informed consent.

No Wisconsin attorney general has ever so ill-served the state or its citizens.

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(23) comments

witness2012
witness2012

We need to get the courts involved with this. I don't think even the conservatives that sit on the state Supreme court could stomach approving this level of secrecy from citizens by a legislator.

The AG needs to be replaced. He has shown he has no honor or integrity.

WSUM
WSUM

This is beyond politics -- there is no justification for defending Vukmir's position. It is a sad day for Wisconsin. I don't have the problem that others do with Republican policies. I do have a problem with the bullying, running people over, and complete disregard for the democratic process the legislature, in particular, has displayed. Doyle wasn't that great and he had his own shortcuts that detracted from Wisconsin's history of clean politics. This is worse.

Comment deleted.
Mr Mellow
Mr Mellow

I guess the wait for Walker's outside agitators is now over...

rick
rick

Just spitting in the face of Wisconsin citizens again. Fake job numbers, WEAC corruption, grants to front groups, armed men running around northern Wis, on and on. The time is here for the federal DOJ to step in. These carpet-baggers do these things, then tie everything up in court long enough to get their agenda in place. It's a fixed game and it has to end. Hollen needs to step down and the voters need to step up. Rid our state of these crooks liars once and for all.

Beingbucky
Beingbucky

Big mistake, Wisconsineye. Very big. Up to this point J.B. has consistently agreed with the CT's assertion that legislators have to comply with open records requests. Now that ALEC is involved J.B. has been told to take the opposite position. He's a lawyer so of course he knows what the right thing to do is, but like any lawyer he can argue both sides of any issue and he knows which side of his bread is buttered--hence his flipflop. Notice that it is J.B. that has all of a sudden changed his position, not the CT. So, given the circumstances I wouldn't trust J.B.'s opinion on which season follows autumn...if it is your nature to be a blind follower, then none of that matters to you. If you are interested in the truth, well, then you have to do a little thinking on your own.

Mr Mellow
Mr Mellow

Senator Vukmir is currently on the ALEC board of directors. Seems pretty clear that J.B. has been told to block public access to her ALEC correspondence. Can't have the public seeing how ALEC is supplying the 'bills' that the GOP legislature passes and Walker signs.
You know that when they demand secrecy, they're doing something wrong...

Wis_taxpayer
Wis_taxpayer

Maybe a more transparent Government would have shown a light on this kind of activity...

One of the most absurd aspects of Scott Walker's failed job growth strategy is to throw huge sums of money at Illinois bordertown companies to move a mile or two up the street to Wisconsin.

The latest example is Gurnee, Illinois manufacturer Kenall moving three miles north to Kenosha.

These types of moves look great in a photo-op, but they do nothing for the Wisconsin economy and won't add a single job.

Why? Because the same workers that worked in the Gurnee, Illinois location will be employed when they move three miles north to Kenosha.

davea
davea

Then go back to Illinois to spend all their money!

wisconsineye
wisconsineye

I think I will defer to the Attorney General's knowledge of the law....rather than that of the agenda driven Capital Times Editorial Board. Does that make sense?

WillSync
WillSync

You have to wonder what she's trying to hide.


WillSync
WillSync

Indeed what could be so special?

witness2012
witness2012

Wiseye, are you arguing that Van Hollen is not driven by an agenda?

amigay
amigay

You vote Republican and you get what you deserve.

Bluezee
Bluezee

Really? Really? Why don't they just wipe out the files like they did last time? We should call Obama's CSA. God Bless 'Merica

chiefwahoo
chiefwahoo

I thought we learned from Watergate that no one is above the law. They are fighting really hard to keep something quiet.

ArchieBunkersKidBrother
ArchieBunkersKidBrother

David Prosser began his law career in Nixon's Justice Department. Go figure.

ArchieBunkersKidBrother
ArchieBunkersKidBrother

If our Department of Justice won't follow the laws in our state Constitution, perhaps it's time the U.S. Justice Department step in here. There is a limit to state's rights.

dakref
dakref

walker is prince John and van hollen is the sheriff of Notingham. We need a Robin Hood.

MadCityYokal
MadCityYokal

I really don't care what your political stripes are -- What Van Hollen is doing for Vukmir to ensure the cover of darkness for ALEC -- gutting our Open Records Laws of Wisconsin -- is a disservice to us all.
Walker needs to speak up on this and have his actions match his words. No one on the right or the left should be happy with Van Hollen at this point.
Such hypocrisy!
Bah!

davea
davea

Walker needs to speak up? It's evident he's already spoke to Van Hollen, and he's doing, "what he's been told to do"!

saunaaiti
saunaaiti

Just another example of how out of control the GOP is in Wisconsin. Just another example of the rights and values of Wisconsin citizens being slapped in the face and tromped on. Just another example of how power and greed corrupt. Almost every single morning since 2011, I have been sickened when I read the morning papers by the absolute reign of the radical right and what it has done to this once proud state. We have been brought to our knees and humbled.

I truly mourn. If, that is a huge word these days, and when we rid ourselves of the truly ugliness this state has become, we need to envision something new and different. Policies that address the issues of the poor and the middle class. We can't go back to the same old, same old.

WillSync
WillSync

"Just another example of how power and greed corrupt." This is the root problem imho. It's not Red vs Blue. It's antisocial vs social. Always cut is the tactic. Cut taxes, cut services, cut education, cut, cut, cut.
I see this as a power test case. The goal is establishment. Create a legal foot hold. Money will buy you a judge in USA Inc. So who knows? Greed will try again and again to get what it wants. Greed never sleeps.

WillSync
WillSync

Let me take a crazy wild guess what they dont want you to know.
http://www.alec.org/publications/keeping-the-promise-state-solutions-for-government-pension-reform/

This site has a unsafe rating by WOT. I'll spare you the danger.

Principles for Pension Reform

Pension reform should remove the risk that states will go functionally bankrupt due to pension obligations

The public (taxpayers) should not bear all the risk of pension plans

No pension plan should be exempt from scrutiny

Retirement plans should not lock employees into the public sector.

Summary: Privatize to pulverize.

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