Wisconsin GOP uses sunshine laws to harass prof who speculated about links with pressure group


William Cronon is a historian at the University of Wisconsin -- Madison. His work has recently led him into an inquiry into the shift in Republican policy in his state, and he published some preliminary notes linking that change to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC, a conservative pressure group that drafts "model bills" that it promulgates through its members, including many local, state and national legislators; they claim responsibility for Arizona's controversial immigration legislation).

Cronon's speculation about ALEC's link to Wisconsin politics has hit a nerve: for the first time in his career, the chaired, tenured professor has found himself to be the subject of a freedom of information act request from the Republican Party of Wisconsin, seeking the disclosure of any emails relating to Republicans in general, ALEC, various Republican politicians, labor, unions, etc.

Cronon is understandably alarmed: it appears that the Republican party is using sunshine laws to harass scholars who investigate its workings; Cronon points out that the inquiry that the GOP has requested will result in the unlawful disclosure of academic reports on students, as well as confidential (but not improper) discussions with other scholars. He thinks that the GOP is looking for a pretense in his email -- some personal or political communique that violates state rules against using his official email for personal work -- with which to discredit him.

Cronon claims that there is no such skeleton in his closet -- but he still wants to fight the disclosure, on the grounds that it is an improper use of sunshine laws for partisan intimidation.

In the meantime, there's a Streisand Effect aborning: if the Wisconsin Republican Party goes berserk any time someone speculates about a link between it and ALEC, well, perhaps more of us should be looking more closely at whether such a connection exists.

Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom (Thanks, SalJake, via Submitterator)