Saturday, February 13, 2010

Does MacIver Handle All Requests to GOP Legislators?

On January 21, 2010 I sent an open records request to state Representative Leah Vukmir's office. I sent the request via email to both Rep. Vukmir and her chief of staff Dean Cady. Here are the basic records that I asked to examine from Vukmir's office:

  • Email on Vukmir, Cady and another staffer's state email accounts that met a list of search words and names and fell within a specific time frame.
  • Calendar entries for people that work for or represent various special interest organizations.
  • An accounting for Rep. Vukmir's use of paid leave.
  • Any electronic running news clips that her office may keep.

I've done my fair share of open records requests and usually the official's office responds fairly quickly simply acknowledging the fact that you have sent them the request. That did not happen in this instance; in fact I grew so concerned after not hearing from their office that I decided to send my request again via certified USPS mail on February 5, 2010 (over two weeks after sending my original request).

Since I had not heard one single peep from Rep. Vukmir's office about my request, even after sending a certified copy, I increasingly grew concerned. That was until yesterday when I saw a blog by Brian Fraley, a Republican operative now working for the MacIver Institute. In it he complained about my request and selectively posted portions of my open records request on their blog. I saw that blog posting at about 2:09 pm on Friday and it was the first indication that I had that Vukmir's office even had received my original open records request. I immediately commented on MacIver's blog asking how they rate, communicating with Vukmir about my request before they have even responded to the person that was actually making the request. That comment was pending for moderation for some time on their blog. About 45 minutes after leaving that comment I finally got an email from Vukmir's Chief of Staff saying some of the following:

  • The information from my requests was ready and waiting to be examined at the clerk's office.
  • That he keeps no calendar and the office keeps no news clips, so there were no records for those items.
  • That Leah Vukmir redacted information from some of the emails (they say it is personal info, which I have no problem with as long as their descriptions are accurate).
  • That I could get her paid leave info directly from the clerk.

Given the fact that I had no idea what was going on with my request, I was naturally very pleased to finally get a response from Vukmir's office. I only wish that they would have contacted me, the requestor, in at least some manner before sending my request to their supporters at MacIver. I don't think that a citizen should have to learn the status of their open records request through a third party's website. But maybe this is a new policy for Republicans in the legislature, or at least Vukmir's office. Maybe all future requests of Republican legislators should be handled directly through MacIver next time.


Anonymous said...

It does look a bit like a fishing expedition, you know.

Cory Liebmann said...

I wanted to learn how a public official uses a state email account. I think that it is a reasonable pursuit. The problem is that there is no easy mechanism to study such a thing. The only method that I could see was listing search words and names and then limiting it to a specific timeframe. If I learn of a better way to accomplish this kind of thing, I will certainly use it.

For the record, I did state in my request that if there were any way that I could adjust my request to make is easier for everyone involved that they should just let me know. Unfortunately, they never contacted me… in any way...until after they had first given my request to MacIver. If my request were such a (overly broad) burden to them, why didn’t they offer a single suggestion when I clearly invited them to do so?

It is pretty clear that they didn’t want to work with me in any way…it just seems that they wanted to complain because they don’t like the idea of someone examining their public email records.

Anonymous said...

Are you equally concerned to do a similar request to her opponent?

Somehow I doubt it.

Jake formerly of the LP said...

Anon- Check out how many open meetings and records requests the Astroturfers at CRG have asked the City of Milwaukee for in the last year, and then get back to me. I'm sure they've made those same requests of Walker and co....

And those records requests have been met and responded to, unlike Loopy Leah and company.

Anonymous said...

RealDebate- The republican party made an equally broad and total waste of taxpayer's money fishing expedition with Sullivan's office several months ago. The difference is they did not complain about it to third parties and quickly responded.

James Wigderson said...

If you were really just trying to see how a legislator uses her e-mail account, why did you include so many media references, including myself?

And what was the reasoning behind excluding other media sources?

By the way, who's paying the $.25/page?

Cory Liebmann said...

I chose my search words/names for a variety of reasons and I'm not going to go into detail explaining each one of them.

However I will tell you that one thing that I was looking for was how this right wing official was using her state email to communicate with other elements of the right wing (for messaging purposes). Thus, the listing of the right wing orgs, the right wing media, and the right wing blogs.

It is actually $.15 per page and I am paying it myself.

James Wigderson said...

As a professional writer who takes my First Amendment rights pretty seriously, I confess to being a little annoyed at someone digging into my relationship with my sources, potential or otherwise.

Have I been named in any other open records requests?

Cory Liebmann said...

If your sources are elected officials and you are communicating with each other through the use of government resources, then it is subject to open records requests.

I understand why you may be annoyed at this, but I'm sure that people named in email-based ORR's from CRG, Belling, RPW and others feel the same way.

John Foust said...

There are some gotchas that make these Capitol open records requests interesting. The Capitol staff and the elected use Outlook. The three computers in question would need to be searched. Each keyword would need to be typed (copy-and-pasted, perhaps) into the 'Find' spot, and the resulting emails either printed or save as '.eml' files (with a quick drag of the subject line to a folder window). Each resulting email would need to be examined for possible redaction.

The gotchas? Staffers are free to delete emails. They generally don't keep emails very long. Even if they deleted something and they wanted to get it back, the Capitol IT staff only keeps backup tapes for 30 days. Our elected believe they are special and they do not follow the AG's guidelines on records retention.

I'm still waiting for Wigderson to explain why his First Amendment rights are endangered because of Cory's request.

Fred, what's your point? That Cory isn't bipartisan like everyone at your web site? Too often in today's political landscape discourse is kept among those who agree. If you want to improve Cory's behavior, no doubt your RDW is setting a great example.

james wigderson said...

I'm still waiting for Cory to answer how many other requests he's made where I've been named.

Cory Liebmann said...

wow james, I'm kind of waiting for you to get over this already...I've tried to be pretty open with you in these comments (probably more than I should have been). as I said before, i understand you being a little annoyed but continuing on is not going to be very productive.

maybe you should ask the people at maciver...they apparently handle all ORR's to gop legislators, so they no doubt might know.

James Wigderson said...

Cory, you claim to understand why I am annoyed, yet you don't want to answer my very simple question.