Late on Thursday night, before the long holiday weekend, Wisconsin Republican legislators inserted a plethora of absurd, evil and maleficent additions to the state budget. One of the most egregious ones was a proposal to change state laws regarding open record requests, basically doing away with transparency on all levels of government:
Under the provision, all "deliberative materials" would be exempt from the open records law. That includes all materials prepared in the process of reaching a decision concerning a policy or course of action or in drafting a document or communication.
The exemptions are even more extensive for members of the Legislature and their staff. They would not have to disclose communications between one another, the public or others who work for the Legislature, such as staff in the clerk's and sergeant at arms offices. The protection extends to a wide array of legislative business, including drafting bills, developing public policy, all aspects of legislative proceedings such as committee hearings, and investigations and oversight.
Legislative service agencies would be required to keep all communications, records and information confidential.
No other states have proposed, much less have made, such sweeping changes to their open records laws.
The backlash was fast and furious and bipartisan:
The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council sent an emergency email alert Friday denouncing the provisions and calling for members to oppose them. And the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter to leaders of chambers Friday asking them to remove the provisions that they say are "gutting" the state's public records law.
One Wisconsin Now, a liberal advocacy organization, as well as the conservative think-tank, the MacIver Institute for Public Policy and the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty each issued statements Friday criticizing the measure.
Even the Wisconsin Corporate Attorney General, Brad Schimel, denounced the changes:
Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, also spoke out against the changes.
"Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the Budget Bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction," he said in a statement. Schimel is the state's lead elected official responsible for handling open records issues.
On Saturday, Scott Walker came out saying that this provision would be eliminated or greatly changed but stopped short of saying that he was opposed to the changes or that he would veto them if they came to his desk:
Although they have yet to formally abandon the plan, Gov. Scott Walker says he wants the changes out of the state budget and powerful Sen. Alberta Darling -- who voted for the provision Thursday night on the eve of the holiday weekend -- said efforts are underway to do just that.
But the Republican governor and all-but-certain presidential candidate said officials may modify, rather than abandon, their plans to weaken the open records law. The governor said he would meet with legislative leaders Monday to discuss changes to the plan.
"My hope is, that after talking with them on Monday, we get to the point where it's either out completely or there's significant changes to it," Walker said.
The turnaround came less than 48 hours after lawmakers slipped the plan into the budget unannounced in a late-night session heading into a three-day holiday weekend.
Walker, speaking with reporters Saturday morning before participating in the Wauwatosa Independence Day Parade, added that he had "a lot of concerns about" the proposal.
Though he holds one of the most powerful veto pens in the nation -- including the power to strike or add specific lines or words -- Walker stopped short of pledging to veto the open records overhaul if lawmakers do not make the changes he wants.
When asked if he would veto the proposals, Walker said, "We haven't made commitments on any other vetoes, but those are things, obviously (we have) a lot of concerns about."
Curiously, even though all of the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee voted for these changes, not one of them can seem to remember who even introduced this into the discussion.
There is no question that this provision to do away with transparency in government is a godawful one. The question is whether this proposal was a serious one or if it was a political stunt to make Walker look less extreme before he finally makes his formal announcement that he is running for president.
The Republicans definitely have a lot of misdeeds that they would want to be hidden from the public, including the fact that they get their marching orders directly from ALEC and other dark money special interests.
Likewise, Walker keeps finding himself under investigations for his illegal politicking and pay for play schemes. He definitely wouldn't want his crimes to keep coming up while he is running for president.
On the other hand, Walker has been getting slammed from both sides of the political aisle for his extremism. At the risk of seeming overly cynical, this could be an elaborate stunt to make Walker look less extreme just before his official announcement that he is piling in the GOP presidential wannabe clown car. It wouldn't be the first time he pulled stunts like this to make himself more politically attractive.
Either way, it only exemplifies just how depraved Walker and his Republican allies really are.