EDITORIAL: William Barth
Senator’s unseemly crusade for secrecy has cost taxpayers enough.
SPEAKING OF court fights and secrecy, it’s way past time for Middleton Democrat State Sen. Jon Erpenbach to quit his costly anti-transparency crusade.
The case goes back to the battles over Act 10 at the Capitol. Erpenbach was a leader of the fight against Act 10 and, in the process, he received boatloads of emails from like-minded individuals.
The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy — a well known conservative organization — sought copies of the emails to Erpenbach under Wisconsin’s open records law. Erpenbach complied, sort of. His office blacked out identifying information from senders, claiming to protect the privacy of those communicating with his office. The MacIver Institute sued.
UNDER THE LAW, the “why” part of the MacIver Institute request for the emails is their business. The government isn’t even supposed to ask, “What do you want it for?”
But there’s a legitimate question behind the MacIver Institute’s request. The organization wants to know if Erpenbach received a ton of emails from public employees, during the work day, sent using government computers. Government workers aren’t supposed to do that when they are on the taxpayers’ clock.
Is that what Erpenbach is hiding, trying to protect public employees from being caught and possibly disciplined?
Nobody knows for sure, but it’s not an illogical conclusion.
HERE’S THE RUB: Despite his claim of high-minded motives to protect privacy interests, Erpenbach is on the wrong side of good-government practices when he stands for non-transparency. The courts have told him so. He has spent $170,000 of taxpayer money promoting secrecy, which is disgraceful. He is considering whether to appeal the court ruling to hand over the names and email addresses. Erpenbach has wasted enough taxpayer money.
Do the right thing. Follow the open records law. Obey the court. Hand over the information.
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