CMD files open records suit against ALEC board member Sen. Leah Vukmir

Press release from Center for Media and Democracy:  MADISON — The Center for Media and Democracy filed suit Thursday against Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the treasurer of ALEC’s national board, over her failure to disclose ALEC-related materials under Wisconsin’s public records law – possibly because ALEC told her to keep the documents secret.

CMD has discovered that ALEC has started stamping its materials with a disclaimer asserting “[b]ecause this is an internal ALEC document, ALEC believes it is not subject to disclosure under any state Freedom of Information or Public Records Act.” There is no provision in Wisconsin law allowing private organizations to declare themselves immune from the state’s sunshine-in-government statutes.

Sen. Vukmir, a member of the ALEC national Board of Directors, the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin and the ALEC “legislator of the year” for 2009, had previously released ALEC-related documents through public records requests, but her responses have recently dried-up. In response to a request from CMD, Sen. Vukmir claimed that she had no meeting agendas, model bills, or other documents relating to ALEC’s most recent meeting, held in Oklahoma City May 2-3, which she attended. Legislators attend ALEC meetings in their official capacity, and have a duty under Wisconsin’s public records law to disclose all records relating to official business.

“It seems difficult to believe that a legislator who is on the national board of ALEC, has been the ALEC State Chair for Wisconsin, and who recently attended an ALEC meeting in Oklahoma City does not have a single record from that meeting in her custody,” said CMD’s General Counsel Brendan Fischer, who filed the lawsuit and who was on the ground in Oklahoma City during the ALEC meeting (although media was shut-out andCMD staff were specifically targeted for exclusion with a security “Face Sheet”). “Private organizations cannot simply declare themselves immune from state Freedom of Information laws,” adding, “Wisconsin’s proud traditions of open government are undermined by elected officials colluding with private organizations to keep the basic operations of government secret.”

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