WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) office was involved in an effort to quietly gut his state's open records law, a move that was put on hold by GOP legislative leaders on Saturday after public outcry from transparency advocates, liberals, conservatives and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial page.
A Walker spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday -- after evading inquiries from reporters -- that the governor's office was involved in drafting the proposal. The scheme would have restricted public access to information regarding the deliberative process used by state and legislative leaders -- an impediment to open and accountable government. Other proposed changes went even further by allowing officials to withhold from the public nearly all documents they maintain.
"Our intent with these changes was to encourage a deliberative process with state agencies in developing policy and legislation," Laurel Patrick, the Walker spokeswoman, said in a statement. "This allows for robust debate with state agencies and public employees over the merit of policies and proposed initiatives as they are being formed, while ensuring materials related to final proposals, as well as information related to external stakeholders seeking to influence public policy, would remain fully transparent."
Walker's office already operated as if the proposed changes to the open records law were made, according to the Journal Sentinel. Two months ago, Walker declined to release records related to his proposal to change the University of Wisconsin mission statement because, his office claimed, it was part of his office's internal deliberations. The open records law was also used to scrutinize the performance of a job creation agency he championed.
The backlash threatens to put a damper on the governor's expected presidential announcement, which is scheduled to take place Monday in Waukesha. Walker's involvement in the ploy also gives Democrats a further line of attack given his criticisms of Hillary Clinton, who has been dealing with issues of transparency and accountability of her own. The governor has ripped Clinton for putting classified information at risk by maintaining a private email server as secretary of state. (Walker, too, used a private email when he served as Milwaukee county executive).
To make matters even more awkward, Walker's political action committee, Our American Revival, touted Wisconsin's "strong" open records law in attacks against Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton's potential evasion of laws is something she should answer questions about," Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the PAC, told The Daily Caller in March. She added: "Wisconsin has a strong open records law with a broad presumption of access to records and the governor has very specific policies in place in his office to assure that the laws are complied with fully."