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FOIA request for WI Professor emails
March 25, 2011 7:34 AM   Subscribe

A week ago, University of Wisconsin History Professor Bill Cronon wrote a blog post about the organization he claimed was driving much of the legislation in Wisconsin: ALEC. Shortly after that, he wrote an op ed for the New York Times about the legislation. Now, the Wisconsin GOP have sent a FOIA request to the University requesting all emails that Cronon may have sent containing the terms "Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union ..." and others. Cronon responds, calling it an "Attack [on] academic freedom". (via TPM)
posted by demiurge (119 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wonder whether the state GOP would be willing to supply their similar e-mails.
posted by oddman at 7:38 AM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you aren't paying (including looking at ads on Gmail I guess) for your email account it isn't private. If he was silly enough to have used his academic account for stuff he didn't want exposed, I'm afraid he's just going to have to suck it up. Otherwise it makes a mockery of the whole FOIA process. I'm totally sympathetic to his cause but what's good for the goose...
posted by unSane at 7:39 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can FOIA requests even be submitted for something like that? I thought they were specifically for governmental records. If you can submit them for anything, a whole new world has opened up... you could submit one to the banks, demanding records that demonstrate why they thought the housing bubble was a good idea... or one submitted to the medical insurance industry, requiring all the documented evidence that they're able to actually sleep at night... or one to Jeffrey Combs, asking why he doesn't love me... so many options!
posted by FatherDagon at 7:42 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


f he was silly enough to have used his academic account for stuff he didn't want exposed, I'm afraid he's just going to have to suck it up.

RTFA, especially the "reponds" link. He goes into great detail about his recognition of how his University email address works, and why he feels this particular FOIA request may have a squelching effect on professional correspondence completely unrelated to anything he may have written about ALEC.
posted by hippybear at 7:43 AM on March 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


Just intimidation. He probably doesn't have anything to hide-- after all, he was doing research! But of course anything that can be twisted, will be.
posted by homerica at 7:43 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


State supported university, so I guess the FOIA request is being made of a 'government agency.'
posted by fixedgear at 7:45 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can FOIA requests even be submitted for something like that? I thought they were specifically for governmental records

He works for a state-owned school, I guess. It's probably bogus.
posted by delmoi at 7:45 AM on March 25, 2011


Just as with discrediting the science behind global warming, this sort of harassment was pioneered by big tobacco.
posted by TedW at 7:47 AM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


One thing that's interesting to me is that Thompson (the FOIA requester) is himself a government employee in the DOA (if the comments are correct).
posted by drezdn at 7:48 AM on March 25, 2011


fixedgear If that logic works then can we submit a FOIA request for all the AIG and BOA documents we want since they're supported by the federal government? Because if that logic works then damn have we got a great weapon against the evil people of the universe.

Any company getting any sort of tax break or grant or subsidy should be fair game for FOIA requests if merely getting a bit of government money opens up a University to FOIA requests.
posted by sotonohito at 7:49 AM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Well, FOIA-swamp them right back then.
posted by aramaic at 7:49 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


One positive outcome of this would be a Barbara Streisand Effect on ALEC.
posted by drezdn at 7:50 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I like the first comment on Cronon's post where it is suggested that all of the UW faculty include the terms that might create ‘hits’ in an open records search.
posted by bz at 7:52 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


oops. I meant to add "in their email sigs."
posted by bz at 7:54 AM on March 25, 2011


Her name is spelled Barbra
posted by hippybear at 7:55 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, FOIA-swamp them right back then.

Tempting though that may be, that strategy could backfire if people get so tired of dealing with FOIA requests that they lobby to revoke the law. I am reminded of the independent counsel law enacted after Watergate that was an important check on governmental abuses, but that was so abused by Republicans during the Clinton administration that politicians on both the left and the right allowed it to expire.
posted by TedW at 7:56 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


UW employees could make their .sigs a complete list of requested search terms. Granted, it would potentially make their every email FOIA'able.
posted by drezdn at 7:56 AM on March 25, 2011


The extreme right have become so powerful that they don't need to hide this kind of shit any more. They can be as brazen as they want because at this point, who's going to stop them?
posted by rocket88 at 7:57 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not just that UW gets "a bit of government money," it's that it's a public institution (and will remain so). Cronon says he's been scrupulous about firewalling personal/political stuff to private accounts, and I'm sure that's true (and is good policy not from paranoia but becuase it's good policy).
But this is either meaningless or will backfire. He's a big deal and is both abstractly and tactically smart. This kind of thing is actually great education for younger faculty, staff and TAs.
Bring it, GOP.
posted by Mngo at 7:57 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Her name is spelled Barbra.

Oops.
posted by drezdn at 7:57 AM on March 25, 2011




This carts by state but in most cases if you have a government email account everything you write (or receive!) is a public record.

Yes the Republican pols emails are public records as well, and I hope Wisconsin Mefites are doing their duty. There is a charge I think twenty-five cents a page. Google "Wisconsin open records law."
posted by LarryC at 8:08 AM on March 25, 2011


It should be noted that this may run afoul of a pretty recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision.

But it's clear harassment, and the objective is either a broad discrediting of the movement based on any intemperate comments found (a la ClimateGate, which actually has some on the right convinced that they've "won" the argument), or getting him fired for misusing government property. The entire party is operating on a philosophy of assholery of the first order.
posted by dhartung at 8:09 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can FOIA requests even be submitted for something like that? I thought they were specifically for governmental records.

A lot of institutions that are government funded are covered under FOIA, including emails. I work for a private non-profit that works on government contracts, and a ton of our communications fall under FOIA. So something that falls under the state government's department of ed? You bet. E-mails and interoffice memos are generally considered governmental records.

It's a dick move on the GOP's part, and IANAL, but they are well within their legal rights to do this. Those email servers are partly if not totally paid for with tax money, and I hope to Christ that the university will do what most GOP politicians don't do these days and respond to it in good faith.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:09 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


VARIES by state!

Stupid autocorrect.
posted by LarryC at 8:10 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just finished reading the first link in the FPP (Cronon's blog post). In my mind, that's the huge story here, not the FOIA bullying. The organized machinations of the conservative movement are both fascinating and frightening.
posted by rocket88 at 8:16 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


He goes into great detail about... why he feels this particular FOIA request may have a squelching effect on professional correspondence.

And not only via intimidation of scholars doing controversial work. If professional emails are routinely handed over, it sets a precedent that could allow email discussing unpublished research results to be FOIA'd by competitors, and public unis/labs will have a HELL of a time recruiting faculty....

As I just discovered, this fear has arisen before: IANAL so I don't understand half of it, but this review talks about "researcher's privilege" against FOIA requests. Interestingly, one of the cases mentioned involves UW:

In Dow Chemical Co. v. Allen, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin asserted a researcher’s privilege and refused to divulge all data related to his ongoing studies of a herbicide manufactured by the plaintiff company.... Although the court did not directly acknowledge the researcher’s privilege, it did admit that premature public disclosure could significantly harm a researcher’s career and credibility by precluding peer review and scientific publication. The court also feared that disclosure could set a precedent that would potentially chill scientific research on a larger scale by subjecting scientists to such intrusion.
Not sure if this is something that can be used here, but one hopes.
posted by Westringia F. at 8:17 AM on March 25, 2011


Fire Dog Lake story.
posted by drezdn at 8:19 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Guess who gets to respond to many of these FOIA requests? My office. Welcome to our lives.

Interestingly, I've noticed a steady uptick in the last few years, well before any of this went down. The student newspapers file them pretty frequently (and not always correctly), but they're not the only ones. It's like they see someone else do it and think it'd be a great way to just get whatever they want..

The law allows us to charge for "reasonable costs of duplication." You're still sometimes dealing with piles of paper a good three to five inches high -- in duplicate, triplicate or more. Someone had to find and physically make copies of all of that -- someone who could be doing a lot of other things to help the state. I'd like to think that it makes the requestors consider what they're doing, but I'm not holding out hope.

It forces us to communicate in different ways, to be mindful of what we say and where we say it. We walk over to people's offices instead of shooting them a one-line e-mail; we don't get snarky, because someone could see it and use it against us as they accuse us of being "hostile" (or worse). We have an internal chat system available, but last time I checked I wasn't sure what the law said on the ability of chat transcripts to be requested under FOIA, so we don't use anything like that internally.

It's like we're running a race but have to slow down to avoid the hundreds of spectators trying to trip us.
posted by Madamina at 8:21 AM on March 25, 2011 [10 favorites]



Of course, they will be going after Ann Althouse, too. Right ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:22 AM on March 25, 2011


Rocket88 makes a good point, and the right's "embarassment" may be worth it to them if they turn the focus from ALEC to imaginary professorial misconduct.
posted by Mngo at 8:25 AM on March 25, 2011


Interesting to see Cronon suddenly in the public eye- as Josh Marshall at TPM notes, he's an eminent historian and one of the pioneers of environmental history:

"Cronon has written a number of highly respected books. But the first was a book called Changes in the Land, a paradigm changing study of early New England. I hesitate to call it environmental history even though that's probably the best description of it. Because I think for those not familiar with the book or the field that may make it sound faddish or narrow in its outlook when it's anything but.

I mention it because it's probably the book that affected my thinking about history more than any other in the time I was getting my own history Phd back in the 1990s, even though I never met Cronon. Other books had more weighty interpretative apparatus or more theory with bigger and bigger capital Ts. But this one was the one I kept coming back to. And my own dissertation was in many ways an effort to pursue a series of questions that Changes raised in my mind about the early history of New England."
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:26 AM on March 25, 2011


The ALEC link lead me to read up on Paul Weyrich.
"I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."
"We are different from previous generations of conservatives... We are no longer working to preserve the status quo. We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country."
posted by drezdn at 8:31 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]




Someone should FOIA Rep. Fitzgerald searching for ALEC or American Legislative Exchange Council.
posted by drezdn at 8:38 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


They could probably FOIA all emails from ALEC's domain to get a complete list of members. Could be an expensive request, though; that would be many thousands of emails.
posted by echo target at 8:42 AM on March 25, 2011


This isn't a FOIA request, it's a Wisconsin Open Records Law request. It appears to be similar to FOIA but it is specifically their state program.

When I worked for an equivalent institution in another state, we were subject to a similar law. I was told on my first day not to write anything from my University email account that I wouldn't want to see on the front page of the newspaper (this was hard for me since I was also an alum of the school and had used my account for personal communications for years). Requests for my communications could be made by anybody for any reason and we would have had to provide it regardless of cause.
posted by look busy at 8:46 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I’d be willing to bet quite a lot of money that Mr. Thompson and the State Republican Party are hoping that I’ve been violating this policy so they can use my own emails to prove that I’m a liberal activist who is using my state email account to engage in illegal lobbying and efforts to influence elections. By releasing emails to demonstrate this, they’re hoping they can embarrass me enough to silence me as a critic.

"Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the communist party liberal activist?"
posted by Big_B at 8:56 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


As dhartung pointed out, in WI a public record is defined as a document etc. "which has been created or is being kept by an authority in connection with official purpose or function of the agency." This is similar to the public records law in my state, if I use my gmail to do public business that particular email would be a public record. If I use work email to do something personal, it is not a public record.

The question to ask is Cronon's blogging and emails have to do with his job. His blog looks to me like some dude who happens to be a history professor.

Stephan Thompson is claiming his emails are an abuse of his university email use policies and therefore should be released. Even if these emails are abuse of his workplace polices and he is penalized for that, that does not necessarily make the emails themselves public records.

Whether or not ALEC is subject to FOIA or Wisconsin Open Records Law, I'm guessing not. Also, about potential release of ongoing research, Wisconsin law exempts from disclosure "Drafts, notes, preliminary documents and similar materials" and trade secrets, both of which may cover that.

On preview: what lookbusy said. FOIA applies only to Federal records, although it has become shorthand for any public records request.
posted by marxchivist at 8:57 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]



Using this page, I was able to verify Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald’s membership in a few seconds using the email address on his state web page (Rep.Fitzgerald@legis.wisconsin.gov).

Open up the shades and let the sunshine in, before they figure out this loophole and close it.


Someone should FOIA Rep. Fitzgerald searching for ALEC or American Legislative Exchange Council.

A template for a letter to request Jeff Fitzgerald's ALEC related records.
posted by cashman at 9:07 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey, at least the FOIA was good enough to limit their requests to 1) a certain time frame and 2) a list of terms. In my (County) office, a seemingly paranoid individual requested ALL email to and from a certain staff member, because that possibly paranoid individual thought there was a plot against the individual by the County staff person. Luckily, we got to limit that to a certain time frame, but there is still a friggin' mountain of printing to be done, which is then reviewed by the County's legal staff to make sure that no privileged messages are being passed out.

Much like Madamina's office, we are all more cautious of the causal comments made between in email. To be honest, it's a good practice for anyone who is involved with government(funded) agencies. If you're not sure about putting something in writing, make a phone call or meet in person. It's not about being sneaky, it's about keeping your words from being quoted out of context.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:20 AM on March 25, 2011


You guys have to actually print the requested documents? I have it easy at my agency. We can just send stuff electronically.
posted by Jpfed at 9:23 AM on March 25, 2011


We can just send stuff electronically.

Someone's living in the future.
posted by drezdn at 9:34 AM on March 25, 2011


You guys have to actually print the requested documents?

I couldn't find anything in the WI law, but in my state we have to provide them in any media we are capable of producing.

...we are all more cautious of the causal comments made between in email.

Some good advice I got a long time ago, and this holds true whether you work for a private company or the government: "Don't send anything via a work email or work computer if you are not comfortable having it posted on the bulletin board in the staff lounge." For government workers, expand that to "quoted out of context in the newspaper."
posted by marxchivist at 9:40 AM on March 25, 2011


"Can FOIA requests even be submitted for something like that? "

Oh, God yes. When I'm considering saying something critical on my school district e-mail account, I think four times and make sure I'm phrasing it properly.

One of the effects of these laws is to drive people to have critical discussions only in person, because they know the e-mails will be FOIAed, and FOIAed often. (And of course discoverable in litigation.) In my K-12 district with 14,000 students, we get between 5 and 10 FOIAs a week, probably about half for student data and the rest pretty evenly split among contracts, e-mails, and employee data. So my e-mail gets run through the FOIA machine at least once a week.

ANY employer you have you should be clear that anything you e-mail can turn up in litigation and may turn up in public filings relating to that litigation. (My husband does a lot of e-discovery work and is constantly shocked by how many high-level executives carry out extra-marital affairs via corporate e-mail systems in organizations that get sued CONSTANTLY and these are key people who get deposed ALL THE TIME and who KNOW their e-mail is discoverable and WILL become public in the litigation.) But if you work for a public employer, or even just e-mail a public employee, you should be aware anything you write can turn up on the front page of the paper with very little effort.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:48 AM on March 25, 2011


GOP response.
posted by drezdn at 9:51 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Oh, PS, your public employee at-work websurfing is FOIA-able too, and our local paper has made a habit of FOIAing the web records of public employees fired out of the "usual" timeframe for yearly layoffs/reorganizations. And, yes, they found a dude who got fired for looking at porn. A LOT of porn. And it was on the front page of the paper. And it's the top Google result for his name now, IIRC. That's gonna hurt future employment prospects.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:51 AM on March 25, 2011


When my wife started at her current school district, they were specifically trained not to say anything negative in emails.
posted by drezdn at 9:54 AM on March 25, 2011


Can FOIA requests even be submitted for something like that?

Not in Wisconsin. If it does not have to do with your job, it is not a public record under that state's definition. Could personal emails be turned over inadvertently amidst a mass of work emails? Yes. Could they be subpoenaed or be turned over because of a search warrant? Yes. But not as part of a routine public records request.
posted by marxchivist at 9:55 AM on March 25, 2011


The law allows us to charge for "reasonable costs of duplication." You're still sometimes dealing with piles of paper a good three to five inches high -- in duplicate, triplicate or more. Someone had to find and physically make copies of all of that -- someone who could be doing a lot of other things to help the state.

Do you have a photocopier in your office? Have you heard the term 'to photocopy' before?
posted by FatherDagon at 10:02 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


“Finally, I find it appalling that Professor Cronin seems to have plenty of time to round up reporters from around the nation to push the Republican Party of Wisconsin into explaining its motives behind a lawful open records request, but has apparently not found time to provide any of the requested information."

it's some clerk at the university's job to do that, not professor cronin's

how dishonest
posted by pyramid termite at 10:02 AM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Using this page, I was able to verify Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald’s membership in a few seconds using the email address on his state web page (Rep.Fitzgerald@legis.wisconsin.gov).

The webpage is down now, and I'm sure this security hole will be fixed by the time it comes back up.

This could have been used to test the email address of every state legislator in the nation for ALEC membership. I hope someone had the presence of mind to do that before this info went public.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:12 AM on March 25, 2011


It's hard to believe that Wisconsin GOP executive director Mark Jefferson thinks that Cronon's opinion on the document request amounts to "intimidation".
posted by demiurge at 10:19 AM on March 25, 2011


Cronon is awesome. I am constantly rereading his excellent account of the relationship between Chicago and its hinterland in Nature's Metropolis.
posted by ofthestrait at 10:23 AM on March 25, 2011


ALEC in Minnesota.
posted by drezdn at 10:48 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's going to be a hoot for them to sort through anything he's doing that touches on the Civil War or anything to do with historical political economics that has to do with the major parties. "Republicans" and "unions" my sweet bippie.
posted by immlass at 10:53 AM on March 25, 2011


oddman: I wonder whether the state GOP would be willing to supply their similar e-mails.

That might reveal some interesting stuff indeed.
posted by Rykey at 10:54 AM on March 25, 2011


Republicans hate universities even more than they hate the unbiased (what they call "liberal") news sources. Universities and academics in general are basically trying, in their random, bumpy, human way, to find out the truth so they can record it and teach it to the world. This inevitably turns up some inconvenient facts for those that would like to create their own reality, and for a long, long time the Republicans have tied their fortunes to conservative political philosophies that depend heavily on shutting out the real world to support a fantasy version of the world. This is why they have set up a network of alternative scholarship cynically labeled "think tanks" where "scholars" are paid to "research" conservative positions, not to discover whether they are correct or not by testing them against facts, but rather to cobble together plausible sounding arguments to support the positions they have historically clung to. That's why their positions now look pretty much like they did in 1910. If they weren't such dangerous thugs, it would be amusing.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:07 AM on March 25, 2011 [18 favorites]


Lawyers for an environmental polluter used discovery to go after one of my colleagues at my university who does research on environmental water contaminants in the Great Lakes. The point was to halt her research for as long as it took her to troll through 15 years of records to find everything that referred to any of the key words they supplied. It took her about a half a year to reply to the request, during which time she got little else done, especially any research on pollution in Lake Superior.

Scuzzy tactic by scuzzy people.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:22 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


UW employees could make their .sigs a complete list of requested search terms. Granted, it would potentially make their every email FOIA'able.

What if members of metafilter emailed UW employees and happened to have those terms in their signatures?
posted by mecran01 at 11:46 AM on March 25, 2011


What if members of metafilter emailed UW employees and happened to have those terms in their signatures?

This sounds like a job for Anonymous.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:48 AM on March 25, 2011


Would e-mails, letters, and faxes to, from, or about ALEC be public documents? Members of the legislature in Wisconsin use ALEC resources when drafting/proposing legislation, which would seem to give any communication about/with ALEC a clear connection to their official purpose or function, even if sent from a private e-mail address.

(e-mails, letters, and faxes "which has been created or is being kept by an authority in connection with official purpose or function of the agency.")

Any Mefite lawyer feel like filling out the proper forms and trying to find who the proper gatekeeper is to make an open records request for every Republican in the state legislature in Wisconsin? It appears you don't have to be a citizen to make a request.
posted by jsturgill at 11:50 AM on March 25, 2011


Someone should FOIA Rep. Fitzgerald searching for ALEC or American Legislative Exchange Council.

So to what office or agency does one submit such a request?
posted by kenko at 12:03 PM on March 25, 2011


So to what office or agency does one submit such a request?

It would be the agency the rep works at, correct? Or their office?
posted by cashman at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2011




You don't need to be a lawyer to fill out a FOIA or open records request, that's sort of the point.
posted by fixedgear at 12:28 PM on March 25, 2011


So to what office or agency does one submit such a request?

I'm looking at the WI Public Records Compliance Outline. It says that any authority "except members of the legislature" has to make and publicize their public records policy, so I doubt you're going to find any instructions on how to make requests from the legislature. As far as I can tell state legislators in WI are subject to their public records law (in some states they aren't).

Rather than sending a blanket email to the WI Legislature, I'd identify a few of the key repubs. and email them asking for anything to or from ALEC or concerning ALEC. What the heck, be reasonable and ask for communications from the last two years. Ask them if they refuse to turn them over, please cite the statute that authorizes them to do so.

I don't know why I'm telling you to do this, I have email. I'm bouncing back and forth between doing some other stuff (I'm at home, haven't been at work all day!). If someone wants to identify a few likely suspects, let's send off some requests.
posted by marxchivist at 12:30 PM on March 25, 2011


You don't need to be a lawyer to fill out a FOIA or open records request, that's sort of the point.

Yessss, but you still need to make the request of the correct person.

If someone wants to identify a few likely suspects, let's send off some requests.

Per the above Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald is pretty likely. State legislators are subject to the law, but some are rather clever about just not maintaining email records.
posted by kenko at 12:36 PM on March 25, 2011


Off the top of my head: Assembly Speaker Fitzgerald, Senate President Fitzgerald, JFC member Glenn Grothman, Sen. Michael Ellis, our friendly Governor. rep.fitzgerald@wisconsin.gov, sen.fitzgerald@wisconsin.gov, sen.grothman@wisconsin.gov , sen.ellis@wisconsin.gov, and govgeneral@wisconsin.gov .

I wonder if the GOP realizes that Prof. Cronon is an extraordinarily prestigious figure with a lot of credibility. Furthermore, he's an excellent writer, and I have trouble imagining the editor who'd turn down an op-ed piece from him.
posted by yomimono at 12:41 PM on March 25, 2011


extraordinarily prestigious figure with a lot of credibility

Yeah, I mean, he's the president of his discipline's national association. That's kind of a big deal.
posted by kenko at 12:43 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, the idea that Prof. Cronon has "plenty of time" for anything is ridiculous. I don't think that guy sleeps.
posted by yomimono at 12:44 PM on March 25, 2011


Walker is a knob.
posted by saucygit at 12:48 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I once worked for a major state university. It was my first academic job so I had no idea my email was subject to FOIA requests. One day a journalist filed a request for all my email related to a controversial search in our department.

The next day I switched to using a commercial ISP for all my email, and advised my colleagues -- some of them lifers who also had no idea they had no privacy expectation -- to do the same, and many did.

Advice to anyone who works for a state university: don't trust the motherfuckers.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:57 PM on March 25, 2011


There are so many things that are horrible about this. One thing that really strikes me, though, is that these guys (the GOP folks involved here) are petty, with sensitive egos and a huge mean streak. They aren't people I'd want on my soccer team, to say nothing of involved in trying to solve complex problems affecting a whole state.
posted by Schismatic at 1:05 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yessss, but you still need to make the request of the correct person.

The WI Public Records guide says "the custodian must respond to the public records request." The same guide defines custodian as: "An elected official is the legal custodian of his or her records and the records of his or her office. An elected official may designate an employee to act as the legal custodian."

I'm sure they'll find some way to say no. If they refuse you can ask the Attorney General for "an action for mandamus be brought asking the court to order release of the record to the requester." The current AG for WI is a Republican. I'm sure they'll still find some way to say no.
posted by marxchivist at 1:06 PM on March 25, 2011


MetaFilter: petty, with sensitive egos and a huge mean streak
posted by hippybear at 1:07 PM on March 25, 2011


There are so many things that are horrible about this. One thing that really strikes me, though, is that these guys (the GOP folks involved here) are petty, with sensitive egos and a huge mean streak. They aren't people I'd want on my soccer team, to say nothing of involved in trying to solve complex problems affecting a whole state.

That's the GOP platform on every single issue, in every state across the nation. They're not even trying to solve any problems, other than the "problem" that poor people have too much money and too many rights, and corporattions have too little and too few.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:12 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


but some are rather clever about just not maintaining email records.

A slight derail, but that's a hell of a read, involving multiple Democrats who are vigorously trying to get around the open records act. Unless there's some context I am missing, it seems seriously shady on the part of Representative Marlin Schneider and Senator Jim Holperin.
posted by cashman at 1:17 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]




Cashman, that is troubling. I really wish politicians in general wouldn't look at records requests as a hassle to be dodged.
posted by drezdn at 1:46 PM on March 25, 2011


I especially like this sentence from the GOP spokesbully:

Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.

Translation: We don't owe anyone any explanation for what we do. It's not just about politics now - it's personal. And we will come after anyone at any time.

I'm starting to wonder whether future elections in Wisconsin will happen at all - whether Scott Walker will declare some sort of emergency a la Emperor Palpatine. I'm only half-joking - think about the kinds of things going on today that would have been the kinds of crazy conspiracy theories Fox Mulder was obsessed with on "The X-Files". Torture, wars without end, civil liberties shredded, major party candidates winking and nudging at thuggish attacks on opponents, a jihad against schoolteachers and nurses, the list goes on and on.
posted by jhandey at 2:37 PM on March 25, 2011






Have you no sense of decency.
posted by drezdn at 3:05 PM on March 25, 2011


About the act :
* Section 991.11, WISCONSIN STATUTES 2009−10 : Effective date of acts. “Every act and every portion of an act enacted by the legislature over the governor’s partial veto which does not expressly prescribe the time when it takes effect shall take effect on the day after its date of publication as designated” by the secretary of state [the date of publication may not be more than 10 working days after the date of enactment].


† Pursuant to section 35.095 (3) (b), Wis. Stats., the secretary of state designated March 25, 2011, as the date of publication for this act. On March 18, 2011, the Dane County Circuit Court enjoined the secretary of state from publishing 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 until further order of the court. Section 35.095 (3) (a), Wis. Stats., requires the Legislative Reference Bureau to publish every act within 10 working days after its date of enactment.
I'm not sure what that means, but it seems that like the Capitol Access, they just went ahead and did what they wanted on the "Better to ask forgiveness than permission" doctrine.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:23 PM on March 25, 2011



Yes the Republican pols emails are public records as well, and I hope Wisconsin Mefites are doing their duty. There is a charge I think twenty-five cents a page. Google "Wisconsin open records law."


Do you have to tell them how many pages their request generated ahead of time? Or could the prof use a markov generator to generate several billion emails and bankrupt the WI GOP?
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:28 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]




Act published despite temporary restraining order.

Wtf? How is that not straight-up illegal, contemptuous of the court, and any number of other bad things?
posted by kenko at 3:31 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt quotes their argument. I've seen a tweet that says the Sec. of State still has to publish for it to be a law.

In other news, I'm seeing claims that the Hopper recall has enough signatures.
posted by drezdn at 3:44 PM on March 25, 2011




Act published despite temporary restraining order.

So Walker is almost literally declaring himself dictator of Wisconsin?
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:09 PM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


According to @illusory_tenant (a WI lawyer on the Tweetersphere) the law they cite is in relation to how bills will literally be printed out.
posted by drezdn at 4:30 PM on March 25, 2011


I do not understand how these things are happening. First the Capitol lockdown - which is STILL going on to one degree or another. The court ordered that access be restored to what it was in January, and let me tell you, the doors weren't locked and I could trivially pass through the building to get to State Street then and I certainly can't now - and now this. What the hell are these people thinking, and why is it that they seem to continually get away with defying the law. Why do they have impunity? I seriously don't get it.
posted by lriG rorriM at 4:31 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do they have impunity?

This is what happens when there are no checks or balances. Walker knows the Attorney General won't investigate him. He knows the current Supreme Court has his back, and he has the votes in the Assembly and Senate.

The best we can immediately hope for is for Kloppenberg to win the Supreme Court seat shifting the court to the left, or for Walker to break a Blago level Federal Law.
posted by drezdn at 4:36 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]



Holy Fuck.

posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:36 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


From @searchcommittee
The bill published by LRB includes the following: "Date of publication: March 25, 2011." This is a knowingly false statement. According to 35.095(1)(b) of Wisc. Code: "'Date of publication' means the date designated by the secretary of state."*
*The Secretary of State voided the date of publication due to the TRO
posted by drezdn at 4:40 PM on March 25, 2011


Senator Fitzgerald sent letter to LRB requesting publication.

The Senator says the idea was mentioned in the media. First I've heard of it.

The restraining order specifically prohibited the publication of the bill overall.
posted by drezdn at 4:45 PM on March 25, 2011


Welcome to Fitzwalkerstan, where the words "I do, therefore, restrain and enjoin the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10" mean "unless you can find some other way to do it that I haven't thought of and then pretend that it's awesome."

PR Watch takes a look at what just happened.
posted by lriG rorriM at 4:50 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Any Mefite lawyer feel like filling out the proper forms and trying to find who the proper gatekeeper is to make an open records request for every Republican in the state legislature in Wisconsin?"

Oh, hai, back when I was a lowly intern, I helped create this FOIA letter generator which generates a FOIA letter for any state that conforms to that state's legal requirements for FOIA letters. It is maintained and kept up to date.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:00 PM on March 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


Unless there's some context I am missing, it seems seriously shady on the part of Representative Marlin Schneider and Senator Jim Holperin.

For what it's worth, Schneider is an impassioned advocate of privacy. There is often a conflict between privacy and open records. My preference is to err on the side of transparency, but that's a fine distinction compared to many other positions.

As to the publication of the law, this is clearly contrary to Wisconsin Statute, and it's not clear that printing copies of the law is at all tantamount to legally "publishing" it. I would imagine that would make acting on the bill as if it were law itself illegal, but that's exactly what I expect this was intended to accomplish -- treating it as law despite the court ruling.
posted by dhartung at 5:07 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]



Rep Barca writes letters.
“Official publication by the Secretary of State is required for this act to go into effect. The Secretary of State, the only Constitutional officer with the power to publish law, is prohibited by court order from publishing this Act.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:48 PM on March 25, 2011


Apparently, the lawyer for the LRB says it's still not a law until the Secretary of State handles it. Of course, that won't stop Governor Walker.
posted by drezdn at 6:40 PM on March 25, 2011


Walker has indeed said that it is now in effect.
posted by kenko at 6:53 PM on March 25, 2011




I just sent off an email to Rep. Fitzgerald asking for any emails to or from ALEC or from any officers of ALEC. I'm curious to see if how he responds and if it all.
posted by marxchivist at 7:18 PM on March 25, 2011


This entire debacle is insane. You can't write politicians as ideologically fanatical as Walker and his cronies. I just cannot believe their flagrancy!
posted by jnnla at 7:25 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are used car dealerships, at this point, that operate with more fairness and integrity, than the Wisconsin State government does at this point.
posted by Skygazer at 7:40 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


hearing on FB and twitter that walker will be in wausau at the plaza hotel saturday mar 26, sometime betw 9 and 10 am ... protests beginning at 9 am...i wish i had a verified source, sorry...can't find one.

...but we'll take any protest help we can get...
posted by g.i.r. at 8:08 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"There are used car dealerships, at this point, that operate with more fairness and integrity, than the Wisconsin State government does at this point."

There are very many.
posted by bz at 8:18 PM on March 25, 2011


Changes in the Land was an excellent book! That that guy is this guy fascinates me. Hopefully one result of this publicity will be that folks revisit it.
posted by mahorn at 8:42 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


g.i.r., I was just at a local event with Peg Lautenschlager, and we plan a major response to Walker's appearance at Forward Janesville (alas, the name of the local Chamber of Commerce, as it would be a nifty name for a progressive organization) on Mar. 29. We may have at least two TV stations there. People couldn't wait. We're going to cover multiple entrances to the hotel and keep an eye out for law enforcement vehicles with papered-over windows, as has been used previously. The man literally cannot face the people he governs.

Don't worry too much about turnout, at least at evening events, as pretty clearly the local public employee unions are making sure word gets out and supplying signs (and other amenities, even, like coffee). At the same time, there are only limited connections between these union networks and lefty networks, which is why you might not be hearing anything.
posted by dhartung at 11:22 PM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


The only way any of this scenario makes sense to me is that because the law also allows facilities to be sold off without bid by the governor, facilities the Koch bros. need ASAP because they've got schedules made. The union busting is a smokescreen for real money to be made by this sell-off. The only way to move this along and get the money rolling in is to defy the court order so the case gets expedited up the chain to the friendly Supremes before the next election swings them away from Walker et al. again.

My sense is that you intelligent, civilized, educated, statespeople have had your turn, now it's the ignorant, greedy, selfish, boneheads' turn at the spigot.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:05 AM on March 26, 2011


pretty detailed pdf with tons of links to info on the current WI issues...

including this gem on uk movement to counter similar problems there
posted by g.i.r. at 8:44 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


More on ALEC from an open records request towards Leah Vukmir last year.
posted by drezdn at 10:21 AM on March 27, 2011


FWIW, here's the American Historical Society statement.
posted by Mngo at 7:39 AM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now it's happening in Michigan.
posted by drezdn at 7:22 AM on March 29, 2011


If you're not watching the stream of tweets from the hearing this morning (on the TRO and so-called publication by the Legislative Reference Bureau), you totally should. This little gem just popped out:

@AcluMadison
Hanaman describes 3/25 meeting with Sen. Fitzgerald, Senate Chief clerk, LRB attys/Chief on publication of law. DOJ obj: atty-client priv.

Well then. High drama and excitement in the court today!
posted by lriG rorriM at 8:26 AM on March 29, 2011


my link above on the 'kitchen table guide to WI legislation' is garbage..here's a better one.

walker visit to wausau update (sorry it's so late):
walker showed up to the hotel/conference center to speak to the Wi snowmobile clubs assoc....there was nothing online to verify this beforehand, other than tweets bouncing around.

third-hand info says ...
Well I got confirmation from someone that was at the Plaza last week. He DID get booed. People yelled at him. And people walked out. He was a surprise speaker and even the president of the snowmobile association was angry that he had to announce him on stage. 800+ people were there and about 50 people clapped for him.

we had between 200-300 people there on the sidewalk in front of the hotel by 9 am on not more than 16 hours notice. the troopers drove him to the hotel the back way, through a neighborhood and not on the main drag, and to the side door...he left the same way...
posted by g.i.r. at 6:00 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


UW's Martin says some Cronon emails won't be released
Chancellor’s message on academic freedom and open records

When faculty members use email or any other medium to develop and share their thoughts with one another, they must be able to assume a right to the privacy of those exchanges, barring violations of state law or university policy. Having every exchange of ideas subject to public exposure puts academic freedom in peril and threatens the processes by which knowledge is created. The consequence for our state will be the loss of the most talented and creative faculty who will choose to leave for universities where collegial exchange and the development of ideas can be undertaken without fear of premature exposure or reprisal for unpopular positions.

This does not mean that scholars can be irresponsible in the use of state and university resources or the exercise of academic freedom. We have dutifully reviewed Professor Cronon's records for any legal or policy violations, such as improper uses of state or university resources for partisan political activity. There are none.

posted by dhartung at 11:37 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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