Mark Pitsch

Where Walker, Burke Stand on Open Records

Grilled by Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the two offer different takes on how to assure the public's right to know.

By - Oct 20th, 2014 03:14 pm
Mary Burke

Mary Burke

Mary Burke was succinct. She used a single word —“Yes” — to answer four of six questions from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council about open government.

The Democratic candidate for governor responded affirmatively when asked if she would:

  • Release a detailed weekly calendar in advance listing her appointments, public meetings and travel schedule.
  • Support ending the Legislature’s exemption from records retention rules in place for other state and local officials.
  • Back making public bodies record closed meetings in case of a dispute over what was discussed.
  • Conduct all public business on public computer networks and devices.

Those are responses that should please open government advocates.

Burke, a Madison School Board member making her first run for statewide office, also said in her written responses that the Legislature should be subject to the state’s open meetings law, though she continues to believe party caucuses should be able to meet in secret. Why?

“To limit the potential that lobbyists — who would be allowed to attend if caucuses were subject to this law — could have any more influence than they already do,” she said.

We believe she doth protest too much. We’d gladly allow dozens of lobbyists to attend the caucuses where much of the real business of governing (and party arm-twisting) gets done if members of the media and public could also attend.

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker, her Republican opponent, was less direct.

In his written responses, Walker sidestepped the question about releasing calendars in advance, saying he makes his calendars available monthly upon request “as required by state law.” He has continued predecessor Jim Doyle’s approach of pre-announcing only select events, often with less than 24-hours’ notice.

Walker also declined to say whether the Legislature should abide by the open records law or be subject to the meetings law, including party caucuses. Instead, he responded that he retains “all public records, including email, for public inspection upon request.”

According to Walker, it’s up to the political parties to open their caucuses, which they could do without a change in state law. He’s right on that point, and we’re still waiting.

And, in response to the question about conducting the public’s business on public electronic devices, he said his office “instituted a clear ethics and professional code of conduct policy for all staff and cabinet officials in 2011. All public business done on any device, public or personal, is subject to Wisconsin’s strong open records laws.”

That’s heartening. As many people know, Walker’s office when he was Milwaukee County Executive set up a secret email system so staffers could evade the records law.

We also asked both candidates to describe the state’s biggest open government problem.

Walker cited the inability of the public to review the state’s finances online — a problem he takes credit for having solved.

“Now the state’s checkbook is online at,” Walker said. “Recently, Wisconsin was rated one of the most transparent states in the nation because of this reform.” He vowed to expand the functionality and add local governments.

Burke, in turn, called for disclosure of the source of issue-ad funding.

“Any group spending money in an election on an issue should have to disclose where their money is coming from and abide by campaign finance laws like any other group or candidate,” she said.

For the full candidate responses, see this column at

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (, a nonprofit group dedicated to open government. Council member Mark Pitsch is an assistant city editor at the Wisconsin State Journal and president of the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

10 thoughts on “Where Walker, Burke Stand on Open Records”

  1. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Bruce, quit lying. Walker’s office did not set up a secret emails it was done by one crooked aide, that has gone to jail, at the request of Scott Walker.
    No one knew that Russell set up the private email program on the county computers. Most businesses, campaigns, like Mary Burke, have private ways of communicating the campaign programs. Walker was never part of it, it was not his policy to do that and he did not know about it or Chisholm would have prosecuted him. Be honest for once.

  2. PMD says:

    Who was the aide’s boss? Was the secret email system run out of the County Executive’s office while Walker was County Executive? Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

  3. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Walker turned in Russell and he was arrested for theft. The secret email system was put up without Walker’s okay, he did not know it was on the county system or Chcihsolm would have indicted him. Was Obama responsible for the VA’s ineptness?? No. eventually it all comes down to him but Obama was not the one that made the bad decisions like he did at Benghazi. When all the truth comes out about Benghazi, and what Obama was doing, the public and you will be shocked.

  4. PMD says:

    Benghazi? Huh? It’s like a tic with conservatives. No matter what the topic of discussion is, Benghazi. I fully expect to be shocked. Shocked by what a nothing burger the story is, except for rabid right-wing kooks whose full-time job is to froth at the mouth about Benghazi.

  5. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Americans were killed, we do not like that as I have three kids in service including one that flies helos for Seals.
    Those creeps in DC need to explain and take the blame for those losses. I know that the Left, who regularly dismembers babies, care little about life or our armed forces. Our family does.

  6. PMD says:

    Oh for crying out loud. You are so full of crap. Any moron can put a “Support the Troops” magnet on their car. That means nothing. If the left doesn’t care about the troops, then the right only cares about rich white people. I have close family who served in Iraq. I care about the troops at least as much as you do.

  7. CJ says:

    “The Left dismembers babies”. huh? I remember the extreme right blowing up abortion clinics. How do either of those issues make any point about abortion RIGHTS? The personal views on some of these topics in Milwaukee are a very clear reason why politics will never change. You are allowing your opinions and personal issues determine the political landscape in your very own home town. Why not elect the politicians that will make your life better, and the City a better place to live, work and play – without the personal attacks/opinions.

  8. Michael says:

    Hey WCD – Check out some of the emails that were released toda (emphasis mine)

    “She [County Spokesman] sent her original draft of a statement to Walker and three campaign aides: then-manager Keith Gilkes, then-spokeswoman Jill Bader and adviser R.J. Johnson.

    “I would suggest you hold until you hear from SKW,” Johnson wrote, referring to Walker by his initials. “Too important not to.”

    McLaughlin sent another draft from Nardelli to the campaign trio and Walker. “Just talked to Tom,” Johnson wrote, referring to Nardelli, who died earlier this year. “Send it.”

    By conducting these conversations on private and campaign emails, Walker’s staff avoided this information be made public in an open records request. But the emails are being released now because they were seized as part of a John Doe investigation into Walker’s county aides and associates.”

    You were saying something about Walker not knowing about the private email system?

  9. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    No, I said that Scott did not know that Russell had stupidly put it on the county system. Really dopey. All campaigns have private emil systems so that people cannot hack into it. What Russell, he was responsible for all of this stupidity was thinking is beyond me. He was trusted by everyone and then he pulls this crap.
    Walker is the one who blew the whistle on Russell and his thefts. it would ahve been much easier to just get the money and cover it up, like most campaigns do.

  10. PMD says:

    So you are claiming that Walker did in fact know about the private email system, but that he didn’t know it was put into the county system? You expect people to believe that? How naive are you?

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