Wisconsin

One Wis. Democrat, Two Records Requests, Same Price

Organizations

A Democratic member of the state Assembly appears to be economizing – or not paying attention to individual records requests her office receives. State Rep. Chris Taylor told two different organizations that submitted two different open records requests that they would have to pay the exact same price to get the different records.

Media Trackers and Wisconsin Reporter both submitted separate records requests to Rep. Taylor seeking various documents related to her involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, and several leftwing groups and causes.

Neither group knew of the other’s request at the time.

Media Trackers filed its request on May 6; Wisconsin Reporter filed its request three days later, on May 9.

Rep. Taylor responded to both requests on May 29, with an initial letter telling each organization that their separate requests would each cost $447.35 to fulfill.

Wisconsin Reporter sought records of Rep. Taylor’s pertaining to ALEC, The Progressive State’s Network, and the Center for Media and Democracy, also known as CMD.

The Media Trackers request sought ALEC, CMD, and some specific Progress Now records, as well as communications to or from the AFL-CIO, National Education Association, AFSCME, People for the American Way, and Common Cause. This request was substantially more detailed, and involved more search terms, than the Wisconsin Reporter request.

The former Planned Parenthood executive turned lawmaker has risen a wave of popularity among some on the left for her work to “expose” ALEC. Jessica VanEgeren colorfully – and inaccurately – recently described Taylor “as an undercover agent, of sorts, attending an American Legislative Exchange Council event.”

In reality, any state lawmaker is free to join ALEC – there is no partisan or ideological litmus test for membership.

Last August, Van Egeren penned an effusive praise of Taylor for her daring to go to Chicago to attend the annual ALEC event.

Taylor has partnered with the Center for Media and Democracy, which recently merged with the Progressive Magazine, to share her perspective on ALEC. In a post from last August, Taylor wrote about her first day attending an ALEC event: “I wore my most conservative outfit and did my best Michele Bachmann impersonation.” In May of this year, Taylor penned another first-person account for the Progressive that was highly critical of ALEC.

Media Trackers was – and is – interested in Rep. Taylor’s apparently close relationship with the Progressive and CMD, an ideological marriage of the kind she seems to abhor when it comes to GOP lawmakers and ALEC. Wisconsin Reporter was also interested in aspects of that relationship, although in requesting records of Rep. Taylor they sought fewer records.

Despite the disparity in requests – and that one request would likely take more time to fulfill since it involved seeking information about more organizations – Taylor’s response letter estimates that she has approximately 2,000 pages of responsive records and searching for them will involve at least 5 hours of her staff’s time.

There is nothing in Wisconsin’s open records law that would specifically preclude a lawmaker from charging an identical amount of money for two different sets of records, but the boilerplate treatment of the requests is remarkable.

Earlier this year, Media Trackers had to extensively push the office of Democrat State Rep. Leon Young to compel him to release his official schedule maintained by his taxpayer-funded legislative office.

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