Alberta Darling's Finally Getting Around to My Open Records Request

alberta darling, alec, open records

Aug. 9, 2011
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Wonder why Sen. Alberta Darling is finally acting on my request from May 12 for communications with or about ALEC?

I'll let you know what Darling turns over as soon as I get it.

UPDATE: As of noon on Friday, Aug. 5, I haven't received anything. I've called Darling's office and sent an email and haven't received a reply yet, either. Stay tuned...

UPDATE 2: Jim from Darling's office called to say that the package was put in the mail on Wednesday. As of 2 p.m. on Friday, I still don't have it.

UPDATE 3: The mail carrier brought his final delivery for the day. No package from Sen. Darling.

UPDATE 4: A breakthrough! Darling's ALEC correspondence arrived in Monday's mail, postmarked Aug. 3, last Wednesday. She sent some angry emails from constituents ("Now that I know you are a member of ALEC, your voting record makes sense. I could not understand how a senator could vote so consistently against the best interests of her constituents as you repeatedly have done," wrote one woman. And: "YOU WERE HIRED TO LISTEN TO EVERYONE, NOT JUST THOSE THAT AGREE WITH YOU," another woman implored, before asking Darling to be like Sarah Palin and QUIT.) Then there's a multiple-page back-and-forth about a ribbon cutting at Dr. DAWG and a newsletter from the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, for whatever reason. There are also a few emails between Darling's aide and Leah Vukmir's aide to see if Darling planned on attending ALEC's Spring Task Force Summit. (Darling's response isn't included.) Vukmir is the Wisconsin Senate Co-Chair for ALEC, a lofty position, I'm sure. Darling's aide also included what appears to be a photocopied press release from ALEC regarding its "Tort Reform Boot Camp: The State Legislator's Guide" as well as a photocopy of the cover. If you remember, the Wisconsin Legislature passed an ALEC-drafted tort reform package during the special jobs session that Walker called in January.

So that's it! Now, why did it take Darling's office three months to comply with my open records request?

From: "Sen.Darling"
Date: Wed, 3 Aug 2011 15:35:41 -0500

**Hard copy and attachments will be sent by regular mail**

August 2, 2011

Lisa Kaiser, Assistant Editor

Shepherd Express

207 E. Buffalo St.

Milwaukee, WI 53202

Dear Lisa:

Pursuant to your open records request dated May 12, 2011, asking for all written and email correspondence from me and my staff from November 2, 2010 to present (May 12, 2011) containing the terms: “American Legislative Exchange Council” or “ALEC”, I have located five emails (16 pages total) that match your request. I also received a booklet from them on April 8, 2011. I have included a copy of the cover letter that came with the booklet and the cover of the booklet. If you would like the entire content of the booklet, let me know and I will provide it.

Please note that some of the records responsive to your request are correspondence to and from my constituents or other private citizens. You will see that rather than deny you access to entire records that contain such information, I have chosen to provide you with the content of the record, redacting only the name and personal contact information (the “personal citizen information”) of the citizen. Also, I have disclosed personal citizen information if there is a clear intention by the citizen to have their information shared publicly. In addition, I have not redacted official contact information related to public officials or lobbyists.

The applicability of Wisconsin's Public Records Law to specific citizen contacts on a particular issue requires me to balance the strong public interests in disclosing the record against any applicable public interest in disclosing the record against any applicable public interest favoring nondisclosure. Based on this assessment, and for all the reasons stated below, I have determined that personal citizen information is not required to be produced under Wisconsin's Public Records Law:

- Pursuant to Wis. Const. Art. IV, Secs. 1 and 16, legislators have not only the right but also the responsibility to receive input from citizens regarding governmental concerns and undertake whatever investigations or inquiries that legislators think are appropriate to resolve those concerns. The potential disclosure of personal citizen information would constitute undue interference with legislators' constitutional rights and responsibilities, would act as an unconstitutional barrier to free and open communication between legislators and citizens, and would chill free speech and debate in the legislative process. As a result of Wis. Const. Art. IV, Secs. 1 and 16, the personal citizen information you seek is not subject to Wisconsin's Public Records. Law.

- Any attempt to obtain the personal citizen information you seek also constitutes an undue interference with that citizen's U.S. Const. Amend. 1 and Wis. Const. Art. I, Sec. 4 rights to petition his government. Such inference chills free speech and debate and operates as a prior restraint of rights. As a result, the personal citizen information you seek is not subject to Wisconsin's Public Records Law.

- Pursuant to the exercise of legislative power authorized under, and the separation of powers principles established in, the Wisconsin Constitution, and each legislator, may choose to withhold or release documents concerning citizens who contact him or her about issues concerning public policy. See, for example, Wis. Const. Art. IV, Sec. 10. This principle is further exemplified by the Senate Policy Manual, which was adopted pursuant to Wis. Const. Art. IV, Sec. 8, and which exempts from disclosure under the public records law any information that identifies, discusses, or refers to proposed legislation that has not been introduced into the legislative process. It is vital to the proper functioning of the legislative branch of government that each legislator has the authority to enhance citizen involvement in the process by protecting personal citizen information. As a result, the personal citizen information you seek is not subject to Wisconsin's Public Records Law.

Furthermore, even if this personal citizen information was subject to the Public Records Law, it would be my opinion that the public interest in disclosing this personal citizen information is outweighed by the public interests in protecting the confidentiality of that information. Citizens must have total freedom to contact me on issues of concerns to them, without fear that their personal citizen information will be made public and that they will be put at risk of harassment, reprisal, identity theft, etc. If personal citizen information is made public, citizens will hesitate to exercise their Constitutional right to contact me for assistance.

Because the cost of locating the records does not exceed $50 there is no location fee. Copying cost is $2.40 (16 pages at $.15 a page). Given the minimal copying costs involved, I will waive the copying fee.

If you have any questions concerning my response, please feel free to contact me. Pursuant to s. 19.35 (4) (b), Wis. Stats., this reply is subject to review by mandamus under s. 19.37 (1), Wis. Stat., or upon application to a district attorney or the Attorney General.


Alberta Darling

State Senator

8th Senate District


The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear the case to determine if Wisconsin Republicans’ redistricting maps are too partisan. Do you believe the U.S. Supreme Court will order Wisconsin to redraw our legislative maps so the majority of legislative districts are competitive and voters will actually have a real choice between a Democrat and Republican?

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