Wisconsin Appeals Court Finds in Favor of the MacIver Institute in Sen. Erpenbach’s Attempt to Shield Public Data

Court Sides with the MacIver Institute in Open Records Case

MacIver News Service | April 9, 2014

[Madison, Wisc…] The Wisconsin District Two Court of Appeals found in favor of the MacIver Institute on Wednesday in the case of The John K. MacIver Institute vs. Jon Grant Erpenbach.

The MacIver Institute filed an Open Records Request (ORR) with Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) three years ago requesting all emails he had received relating to Act 10’s changes to collective bargaining. Erpenbach provided the requested emails, but not before redacting all of the senders’ contact information, including the names and email addresses of public employees.

Based on a review of the emails, the MacIver Institute concluded that there was a concerted effort on behalf of government employees to actively use public resources to campaign against Wisconsin’s collective bargaining reforms known as Act 10.

When asked for the requested emails without redacted contact information, the Senator’s office refused.

In response, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed suit on behalf of the MacIver Institute to determine how many government workers, on taxpayer time and using taxpayer resources, lobbied Sen. Erpenbach about Gov. Walker’s collective bargaining reforms.

In April 2013, Grant County Judge Robert P. VanDeHey found in favor of Erpenbach, claiming he had the discretion to withhold the information redacted in the emails from the public.

The MacIver Institute appealed that decision, which was overturned on Wednesday by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

“Today is a win for transparency in government and the taxpayers of Wisconsin. The Court of Appeals has agreed with the MacIver Institute that Sen. Erpenbach cannot carve out a special exemption to the open records law for whomever he chooses or try to hide public information when he works for Wisconsin taxpayers,” Brett Healy, President of the MacIver Institute said. “Government employees and their unions should not be given a cloak of anonymity to hide their attempts to influence the legislative process. Today’s decision requires them to play by the same rules as everyone else.”

The Court of Appeals also directed the Circuit Court to order the release of all requested documents without redaction.

“I am pleased that Sen. Erpenbach has been ordered to release all of the requested documents without redaction,” Healy said. “Openness in government is a key part of our democracy and the public has the right to know if government employees were campaigning against Wisconsin’s collective bargaining reforms on public time, using public resources.”

The full decision from the court is available here.