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ALEC Loses Wisconsin Open Records Law Fight

PHOTO: State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) has settled a lawsuit regarding e-mails involving her activity with ALEC, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Senate.
PHOTO: State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) has settled a lawsuit regarding e-mails involving her activity with ALEC, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Senate.
April 4, 2014

MADISON, Wis. – Republican State Sen. Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa has settled a lawsuit brought by the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy regarding emails involving her work with ALEC, the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

The messages contained a disclaimer that the content was not subject to Wisconsin's Open Records law.

Vukmir, who paid a $15,000 settlement in the case, also acknowledged that the ALEC email disclaimer had no force of law.

Brendan Fischer, general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), says ALEC's efforts to avoid Wisconsin's Open Records law have not been successful.

"We've had strong commitment to open and transparent government, and one of the best ways you can maintain a transparent and accountable government is through the Open Records law,” he stresses. “So, we would hope that all legislators, all elected officials from both parties would give the Open Records law the proper amount of respect."

Vukmir also has agreed to release other emails about ALEC business from her private email account.

She said she was happy to reach a settlement and looked forward to working with the CMD in the future.

Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that state legislators are immune from litigation while in office.

As another part of Vukmir's settlement, Van Hollen has agreed to withdraw that argument.

Fischer calls the settlement a major victory for open government.

"I think the outcome of this case shows that legislators who deny open records requests and seek to hide behind these improbable claims of legislative immunity will be held accountable by the public, and the media and the legal system,” he says. “We think that the outcome of this case is a big step forward for transparency in Wisconsin."

Before CMD filed its lawsuit last May, Vukmir had claimed she had no records of her correspondence with ALEC in her possession.



Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI