Public Records Request Reveals Doug La Follette Only Received Six Letters from the Public on Issue in 2 1/2 Months[Madison, Wisc…] Wisconsin’s Secretary of State cannot prove claims he made that he heard from many local officials who urged him to delay publication of the Budget Repair Bill which was passed and signed into law earlier this spring.
“After seven weeks, Secretary of State Doug La Follette finally fulfilled our simple truth-seeking public records request, and the results are laughable,” said MacIver Institute President Brett Healy. “He cannot produce any evidence that he was acting at the behest of local government officials when he purposefully delayed publication of the budget repair bill.”
Healy said the lack of public record over the decision to delay publication raises further questions as to just who was behind the maneuver.
“We may never know just who influenced one of Wisconsin’s Constitutional Officers,” Healy said. “But one thing is clear: He wasn’t reacting to an outpouring of sentiment from public officials, as he implied in March.”
On March 14th the Associated Press reported: “La Follette said he heard from many schools, cities and counties urging him to delay enactment of the law as long as possible.”
How the bill got to La Follette’s office is the first place is now a part of Wisconsin political lore. La Follette’s inaction came in the midst of the largest political protests in Wisconsin history as Democratic Party, labor unions and liberal activist groups organized mass rallies and the occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol.
On February 11, Scott Walker introduced his budget repair bill, which aimed to close a $137 million gap in state finances for the current fiscal year. One component of the plan included provisions that would alter the powers of government employee unions, effectively eliminating their ability to collectively bargain for anything other than wages.
After more than 60 hours of public debate on the floor of the Assembly Chambers, the house passed the bill early on February 25 by a vote of 51-17.
All 14 Senate Democrats fled state on February 17 to prevent action on the bill. For a bill which included major fiscal items, Republicans needed 20 of 33 senators present to pass the bill, but they hold just 19 seats.
On March 9th, Senate Republicans, having made changes to the bill so that only a simple majority was needed, quickly passed the bill.
On Friday March 11, Walker signed the bill into law as Act 10. He then requested that La Follette, who by law had 10 business days by which he needed to publish the bill, to do so on Monday, March 14.
That day, La Follette announced he would wait the full 10 business days and not publish the Act until March 25th.
The morning of March 18th, the MacIver Institute filed an open records request with La Follette’s office for :
“Copies of all correspondence you have received, including, but not limited to, letters, emails, voice mails, records of phone calls, and logs of in-person meetings regarding the subject of changes to Wisconsin’s collective bargaining laws for public employees.
“Included in this request are communications specifically pertaining to SSSB11, SSAB11, and 2011 Wis. Act 10 as well as the issue generally.”
After a written inquiry from the Secretary of State’s office, the MacIver Institute clarified their request to cover the dates from January 1, 2011 to March 17, 2011.
Also on March 18, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a restraining order to block La Follette from publishing the law.
The publication of the bill remains held up in circuit court, as Sumi slowly proceeds with a case that questions whether the Legislature violated the state’s Open Meetings Law during the legislative process on the bill.
“We wanted to know what went into La Follette’s decision making process, who influenced him to slow down the process while labor union officials, liberal politicians and other groups moved forward with their attempts to circumvent the law in the courts,” said Healy. ‘Seven weeks later, we still want to know.”
On March 23rd MacIver received a response from Susan Churchill, La Follette’s Deputy, which included photocopies of three written letters and a promise that the office was conducting a review of their emails in order to compile all electronic records on the matter.
On May 6th MacIver sent an email to LaFollette asking why it had taken seven weeks to completely fulfill our request for public records.
On May 9th the office replied that the documents were mailed on the 5th, and indeed we did receive a thin envelope from them in the mail on Monday, May 9, 2011. The document included the results of the electronic record retrieval: Four documents, including one mass email that La Follette himself simply forwarded to an undisclosed list.
None of the six individuals who the Secretary of State can prove corresponded with him on this issue from January 1 to March 17 indicated they were representing any school, city or county. All of them wrote to his office after he announced he would delay publication of the bill
“Secretary La Follette has produced no records of contacts with individuals or organizations from the dates prior to his public announcement regarding the publication delay,” said Healy. “Seven weeks of waiting for these records yielded a whopping six letters, and the public still has more questions than answers.”