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Records of government ethics probe show no evidence of inquiry

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    NMU         WISCONSIN         Freedom of Information         Aug 16, 2002    

Records of government ethics probe show no evidence of inquiry

  • Three Wisconsin newspapers that sued to get records from a state ethics investigation say they found no sign of an investigation when the records were finally released.

More than 3,800 pages of documents that purportedly were the result of a Wisconsin Ethics Board investigation into election campaigns contain no apparent evidence that the board conducted an investigation, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel account.

The Journal Sentinel, one of three newspapers that sued to get the board’s paperwork, found that the year-long investigation did not even include interviews with the main whistleblower in the case, the newspaper reported.

When whistleblowers reported that state lawmakers and their aides had campaigned illegally using state resources, the ethics board said it would investigate.

The board refused to release copies of its paperwork in the case to the media, so the newspapers sued the ethics board in Dane County Circuit Court in November under the state’s Open Records Law.

But the ethics board denied access to the records, saying such investigations were protected under state law. The newspapers, however, contended that there was no investigation, so the records should be disclosed.

On Aug. 8, the day the lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial, the records were released by the ethics board. Ethics board chairman James Morgan said the board “felt it best to

release the records as a matter of openness,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

The Journal Sentinel reported last month that Wisconsin taxpayers spent more than $680,000 in legal fees in connection with the secret investigation.

The legal maneuverings included subpoenas by the state to force reporters to testify about why they asked for records pertaining to the case. The subpoenas were quashed by a county circuit court judge in February.

(Capital Times Co. v. Schneider; Media counsel: Brady C. Williamson and Robert J. Dreps, LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn, Madison, Wis.) JE

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