A clash between a national conservative think tank and a liberal Madison-based advocacy group is exposing new wrinkles in old questions about how much of the public’s business can be conducted behind closed doors.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, is being challenged for using Internet drop boxes and broad new assertions of privacy to shield from public view the discussions of elected officials and corporate leaders it brings together to write model legislation for state governments.
In particular, the Arlington, Va.-based group has begun adding a disclaimer to documents it provides to state lawmakers contending that the material — including meeting agendas and policy proposals — isn’t subject to the Wisconsin Open Records Law or similar laws in any state.
Advocates for so-called sunshine laws said they couldn’t see how Wisconsin lawmakers could legally withhold ALEC materials from public view.
“A stamp by a private non-governmental group saying the records that it shares with lawmakers are not subject to open records laws should carry no weight,” said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. “Absolutely none.”
Bob Dreps, a Madison lawyer who represents news organizations, including the Wisconsin State Journal, in open records cases, said adding a disclaimer had no force of law.
“It’s the content of the document that matters, not what kind of label you put on it,” Dreps said.
Some Forons have been disturbed that our national government conducts business that is not totally transparent. Does their disquiet also apply to how our state laws are made?