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Watchdog: Wisconsinites Have Right to See "John Doe" Documents

GRAPHIC: Some groups that have spent millions of dollars on political ads trying to influence Wisconsin elections, now don't want documents in the John Doe probes into Gov. Scott Walker's campaign to be seen by the public. Others say the public has the right to see documents relating to public officials' conduct. Image courtesy Common Cause.
GRAPHIC: Some groups that have spent millions of dollars on political ads trying to influence Wisconsin elections, now don't want documents in the John Doe probes into Gov. Scott Walker's campaign to be seen by the public. Others say the public has the right to see documents relating to public officials' conduct. Image courtesy Common Cause.
June 2, 2014

MADISON, Wis. – Several watchdog groups, including the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, are asking a federal court to unseal more documents in the John Doe probe into Scott Walker's campaign for governor.

Other groups, such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which has spent millions of dollars trying to influence Wisconsin elections, say the documents in the probe should not be made public.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, disagrees.

"It's a little ironic that some of the groups that have been involved in leaking select information to the media are now putting up an alarm about how certain information can't possibly come out without harming their interests,” he says. “They really can't have it both ways. They can't be selective about what they want the public to see."

Groups, including the Club for Growth, characterize the two John Doe probes as partisan witch-hunts.

Lueders argues that the public has a right to see the documents gathered in the probes.

"The type of things that end up in the act of litigation are things that you don't necessarily want the whole world to see,” he explains. “But generally speaking, when the courts are involved to settle a dispute, those type of documents become public.

“And when it deals with an issue of the conduct of public officials and issues of public trust, the public has a right to see that information."

Now that the second John Doe investigation is over, Judge Neal Nettesheim has ruled the county records seized in the probe should be returned to the Milwaukee County Executive's Office, and be made available to the public.

Some say Club for Growth and similar groups are trying to avoid a repeat of what happened several weeks ago, when the first set of documents in the probe was released.

"Many of those records, in fact, did make public officials look bad because of the type of things that they were saying to each other, with the expectation that these were internal and private communications,” Lueders says. “Now, does the public have a right to know that people who are getting paid to do the public's business are engaging in this type of discussion? Absolutely."


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI