In 1776, our Founding Fathers declared independence from an oppressive, lawless government, offering in the body of those 1,333 words the moral foundation for the creation of this great nation. Among the grievances detailed against King George III included this:
“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.”
Almost to the day 239 years after our Founders declared that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed, Wisconsin Legislative Republicans attempting to shield themselves and Gov. Scott Walker from the prying eyes of journalists, activists and citizens have sought to remove altogether the “depository of their public [r]ecords,” and with it the public’s ability to obtain basic information to give their consent to the proposals considered by the Legislature.
Thursday night after nearly one month of cowering behind closed doors in the midst of crafting the $70 billion state biennial budget, the Republicans emerged to unleash the greatest assault on open records in our state’s history.
In fact, during debate on the measure, it was noted this might be the greatest legislative assault on the public’s right to know seen in the nation’s history.
As a statewide progressive watchdog conducting research and communication to work towards our vision of a Wisconsin with equal economic opportunity for all, we have filed hundreds of open records requests with Gov. Walker and state legislators, spending tens of thousands of dollars to ensure the public is fully informed about happenings behind the curtain of state government and that politicians are held accountable.
In their effort to exempt literally all of their actions from the scope of the state’s renowned open records law, including removing from scrutiny the records showing who is involved in the drafting of state legislation, the Republicans have fundamentally broken the promise of accountability between the governing and the governed that is inherent in our democracy.
Using drafting records available under current open records law, One Wisconsin Now has shown that a lobbyist from Gogebic Taconite wrote the legislation paving the way for Gogebic Taconite to attempt to open the world’s largest open pit mine next to the largest freshwater body on the planet.
We used open records to show that school privatization lobbyists wrote legislation to benefit the school privatization industry.
We’ve had to sue elected officials over their refusal to release records accessible under the open records law, including Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the committee whose Republican members voted in lockstep to make the changes.
This attack on our sacred tradition of open government affects us all. We know transparency illuminates the pathway of accountability. Without light, there is darkness. And in the shadows of our corridors of power will fester the corrupting forces of venality and greed, should these changes be signed into law by Gov. Walker.
The decision Gov. Walker makes to either veto this provision or sign it into law if it comes to his desk will answer a fundamental question as he embarks on his campaign to be the leader of this nation.
Does he want to be our president, or does he seek to be a king?