MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Newly released documents show Gov. Scott Walker’s office was involved in drafting a state budget amendment that would have overhauled Wisconsin’s open records law and kept some government materials secret.
Walker, who is seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has acknowledged his office played a role in developing the proposal but, in the wake of fierce bipartisan backlash, called it a “huge mistake.” Documents released to a number of media outlets, including the Wisconsin State Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, show Walker’s assistant legal counsel, David Rabe, was involved in drafting the amendment weeks before the Legislature’s budget committee approved it.
A June 15 email from the Legislative Reference Bureau’s Michael Gallagher to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos aide Andrew Hanus began with the subject line “Governor’s request.” Gallagher wrote in the email that he was in communication with Rabe about Walker’s request to draft the amendment.
The next day, the reference bureau emailed draft amendment language that would have exempted legislative drafting documents and notes, personal property and other materials from the open records law, including so-called “deliberative process” materials, communications that include opinions, analyses, briefings, recommendations, suggestions and drafts related to bills.
The liberal Center for Media and Democracy is suing Walker to obtain documents related to his budget proposal to eliminate the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. Walker has argued the files are part of the deliberative process and should be kept private, an exemption not currently allowed under the open records law.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick responded to the State Journal’s request for comment by referring to a previous statement that acknowledged the governor’s staff provided input after legislative leaders told them they wanted to make changes to the open records law.
Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have said the amendment was a collaborative effort with the governor.
The Republican-controlled budget committee added the amendment to the budget on July 2 but GOP leaders removed it days later amid an uproar from open government advocates.