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MacIver & Others Seek Senate Democratic Emails

Hey, if Walker’s emails have been anally-probed six ways to Sunday by the Associated Press, Bill Lueder’s Isthmus crew, and the rest of creation, why can’t the same be said of the Democrats who fled the State?

At least two politically minded groups have made extensive open records requests for emails sent and received by state legislators, two of the groups confirmed Thursday.

A third group has made at least one such request.

A spokesman for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy said the Wisconsin-based think tank had asked for emails from six Democratic legislators dating from the beginning of the year until now. The spokesman, Brian Fraley, said the group was seeking correspondence related to Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill.

Orville Seymer of the group Citizens for Responsible Government said Thursday that his group asked for emails from five Democratic senators dating from Feb. 17 to March 28.

He said the five were Sens. Chris Larson of Milwaukee; Robert Wirch of Pleasant Prairie; Dave Hansen of Green Bay; James Holperin of Eagle River; and Mark Miller of Monona.

Seymer said the group wanted to see the correspondence citizens wrote to the legislators in connection with Walker’s bill that would eliminate most collective bargaining for most public employee unions.

Mike Browne, a spokesman for Miller, confirmed that three groups – the MacIver Institute, Citizens for Responsible Government and a third group, Wisconsin Family Action, had made open records requests for emails from Miller’s office. Browne said the groups wanted to see emails over an extensive period of time.

But, will we get it?

(H/T Berry Laker) Apparently, the Wisconsin legislature works a lot more like Washington, DC than we’ve ever thought.  In case you weren’t aware, Congress is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA.  The overall thinking from inside Capitol Hill is that by dealing with constituent mail and other work, they get to shield themselves from inquiries.

The Lakeland Times discovered Wisconsin legislators have a more simpler loophole — and one of the fleebaggers has practice using it — the “Delete Button.”

The office of the state attorney general told The Lakeland Times this week it has no statutory jurisdiction to offer a legal opinion about a policy adopted by state Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover) of routinely deleting emails his office receives.

But assistant attorney general Lewis Beilin nonetheless said lawmakers should promote the cause of transparency, even when laws do not obligate them to perform certain functions.

Beilin was responding to a request by Lakeland Times publisher Gregg Walker, who asked attorney general J.B. Van Hollen for an opinion after Holperin informed the newspaper that he and his staff had begun to delete emails they didn’t consider substantive.

Holperin did not deny that emails sent to his office were public records, but said he was not required to retain them for any length of time.

Walker questioned whether Holperin’s policy was legal under state law.

“If I ask for an email and he hasn’t yet deleted it, he says he must turn it over,” Walker wrote in his letter to Van Hollen. “On the other hand, if he gets an email, he says he can delete it five minutes later, and, if we then ask for it, we are out of luck.”

[…]

After being publicly stung earlier this year by the publication of some of his emails to constituents – in one email Holperin wrote that “the Governor’s got enough little tax and fee hikes in that budget of his to sink a good sized battleship” – the senator began exploiting a nearly 50-year-old statute exempting the records and correspondence of lawmakers from the permanent use collection of the state’s public records board.

That statute, separate from the open records law, governs retention times for various public records.

In other words, emails his office receives are indeed public records so long as they are retained – and thus subject to release if an open records request is made for them – but lawmakers are under no obligation to retain their records for any length of time.

So…here’s hoping they are all still there.

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