Tag Archives: secret

Some evidence suggests Scott Walker was behind Republicans’ attempt to gut open records law

Hit with an avalanche of criticism from across Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders have agreed to remove language from the state budget that would have gutted the state’s open records law.

In a joint statement, Walker and the GOP leaders on Saturday said they had decided to remove the controversial measure “in its entirety” after “substantive discussion.”

But the question remains: Who is responsible for putting it in the budget in the first place?

It is a question that legislative leaders and Walker — who is set to announce his run for the presidency next week — have repeatedly dodged since the proposal was slipped into the 2015–17 spending plan late Thursday as residents headed out to begin celebrating the Independence Day weekend.

A review by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism shows similarities between recent records request denials from the governor’s office and the state Department of Administration and changes inserted in the budget by Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee — similarities that raise questions about whether Walker himself was involved in the budget proposal.

Critics from the left and right agree the measure would have allowed state and local officials to craft laws and policies largely in secret.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, declined to respond to questions about whether the governor was behind the effort to limit the state open records law. Walker also ducked reporters’ questions about his role on Saturday. On Monday morning, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, declined during an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio to discuss the governor’s involvement.

The turnaround on the measure came soon after Wisconsin’s Republican attorney general and conservative and liberal groups dedicated to government transparency all decried the last-minute changes approved on a 12-4 party-line vote by the budget committee with no public input.

Republican legislative leaders have refused to say who is behind the measure, which opponents argue would have invited corruption by largely shielding the inner workings of state and local government in Wisconsin from public view.

Under the measure, documents used during the “deliberative process” by the governor, lawmakers and other state and local government officials would be exempt from public disclosure. Those would include opinions, analyses, briefings, background information, recommendations, suggestions, drafts, correspondence about drafts, as well as “notes created or prepared in the process of reaching a decision concerning a policy or course of action.”

A Center review shows that on May 8, DOA used a similar rationale in denying a River Falls man access to records about Walker’s controversial proposal to eliminate IRIS, a program that allows disabled individuals to use state money to pay for self-directed care. Lawmakers have since altered the program, but disability advocates remain opposed to the changes.

Oral arguments set in John Doe appeal

Oral arguments in the appeal of a federal judge’s ruling halting an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign and other conservative groups have been set for Sept. 9, exactly two months before the Republican stands for re-election.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set the date.

No charges have been filed against Walker or anyone else as a result of the investigation, which began in secret in 2012 but has since been largely revealed through court filings and other public statements.

Prosecutors have said in court filings that they are looking into allegations of illegal campaign activity involving Walker’s campaign, Wisconsin Club for Growth, the state chamber of commerce and conservative groups during the 2011 and 2012 recalls.

Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz described what he called a “criminal scheme” by Walker to evade campaign fundraising and coordination laws, according to a document written in December but made public in June. An attorney for Schmitz subsequently said Walker was not a target of the probe and that document laid out a legal theory, but that no determination had been made to bring any charges.

Walker, a potential 2016 candidate for president, has said repeatedly he did nothing wrong and that his political opponents, including Democratic challenger Mary Burke, are slandering him by referring to his involvement in an alleged “criminal scheme.”

Under Wisconsin law, third-party political groups are allowed to work together on campaign activity, but barred from coordinating that work with actual candidates. The Wisconsin Club for Growth has argued the prohibition does not apply to it because it does not specifically tell people how to vote or run ads with phrases like “vote for” a certain candidate.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa, in his May ruling halting the investigation, agreed with that argument and found that the probe was a violation of the group’s free speech rights.

The state court judge overseeing the probe, known as a John Doe, quashed prosecutors’ requests for subpoenas in January, also effectively halting the investigation.

David Rivkin, attorney for Wisconsin Club for Growth, said he was pleased with the date being set. An attorney for prosecutors, Sam Leib, did not immediately return a message seeking comment. 

Political elite meet behind closed doors

For a few days in March, the American Enterprise Institute welcomed scores of business and political leaders to a private annual meeting at a resort on the Georgia coast. But only those who attended know what issues were discussed, strategies planned or promises made.

That’s because the ground rules for the invitation-only meeting required the participants’ confidentiality — even if some were elected leaders, discussing the public’s business.

An impressive array of the powerful attended the conservative think tank’s World Forum 2014, according to a printed program first disclosed in late April by the Center for Public Integrity. They included House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican congressional leaders; potential 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Apple CEO Tim Cook; beer magnate Pete Coors; TD Ameritrade founder-turned-billionaire-conservative activist Joe Ricketts; and executives from multiple venture-capital firms.

Similar events occur across the political spectrum, giving powerful people with deep pockets access that the average American could never hope to gain. Last month, a group of liberals held closed sessions in Chicago under the banner of Democracy Alliance to talk political strategy for progressive causes. Conservatives complained that the gathering included top environmentalists such as billionaire Tom Steyer, though a spokeswoman for Steyer told The Associated Press he did not attend.

And in early May, state lawmakers from around the country convened privately in Kansas City, Missouri, with business leaders as part of the corporate-financed American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The right-wing group’s task forces met to write recommended bills on topics from education and tax law to environmental regulation, labor law and criminal justice. ALEC’s legislative members will return home and sponsor the corporate-written bills in their statehouses.

Organizers and participants say the closed sessions allow public and private sector titans to discuss candidly topics ranging from foreign affairs and intelligence gathering to tax policy and elections strategy. But some open-government advocates say the events reduce confidence in the democratic process.

“This just creates more ways for mega-donors and elected officials to get together and talk about public policy behind closed doors,” said Miles Rapoport, the president of Common Cause, a national group that advocates for less concentration of political power.

Boehner, who is an ALEC member, according to the group’s website, told The Associated Press that such events are “very educational.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who attended the AEI forum in Georgia, said they promote “a free exchange of ideas.”

Rapoport, of Common Cause, said open sessions — like meetings of the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures — don’t have to prevent candor.

At the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group that monitors influence in government, executive director Sheila Krumholz said politicians shouldn’t be criticized “for getting out from behind their desks and getting information.” Private meetings between “the regulators and the regulated” are part of the process, but the venue and the breadth of the closed gatherings matter, she argued.

“The concern is that these get-togethers offer opportunity for extended exposure in a relaxed setting,” she said. “It’s all very conducive to a
good rapport. That’s an invaluable advantage — and not one afforded to average constituents.”

Even some partisans criticize the secrecy — when the opposition is involved.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign attacked his potential general election rival, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, for attending the Democracy Alliance meeting in Chicago. McConnell accused Grimes of cozying up to wealthy environmentalist donors nationally while campaigning as a pro-coal Democrat back home.

Meanwhile, many Democrats have long vilified the operations of ALEC, responsible for promoting anti-immigrant laws, anti-environment measures and also “stand your ground” measures.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, an openly gay Democrat from Madison, joined ALEC when he was in the state Assembly. He attended the group’s meetings starting in 2008 and then discussed their agenda publicly — something participants often decline to do.

Closed meetings at ALEC and AEI, Pocan said, are “definitely not good for public policy, and they’re not good for democracy.”

ALEC spokesman Bill Meierling noted that the organization operates more openly in recent years, in part in reaction to critics who cried foul over ALEC members pushing conservative causes, such as limiting environmental regulations or penalties for violations — stances traced back to the group’s corporate and foundation backers.

Only legislators can submit proposed ALEC bills to a task force, he said, and the group now posts those proposals online before task forces meet. The end product is also posted after the meeting. ALEC also discloses its donors.

Putting all of that on paper, he said, is how critics can spot model legislation in a statehouse or know that ALEC has gotten money from conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the National Rifle Association and corporate giants like Shell, Texaco, Philip Morris and Union Pacific Railroad.

The American Enterprise Institute, meanwhile, maintains a code of secrecy around its annual meeting “to maintain intellectual freedom and free discourse,” Judy Mayka Stecker, an institute spokeswoman, said in an email.

Walker aides confirmed the governor’s attendance but declined further comment. 

NSA debate pits far left, right against middle

Revelations of massive government collections of Americans’ phone and email records have reinvigorated an odd-couple political alliance of the far left and right.

A number of Democratic civil liberties activists, along with libertarian-leaning Republicans, say the government actions are too broad and don’t adequately protect citizens’ privacy.

But this unlikely coalition might have trouble doing anything more than spicing up the national debate. Solid majorities of Americans and their elected representatives appear to support the chief elements of the government’s secret data-gathering, and even some of Congress’ most outspoken, pro-limited-government tea partyers are wading cautiously into the discussions.

Among other things, the latest privacy-vs.-security struggle may test libertarianism’s clout within the Republican Party. In political circles, it’s a favorite topic since the tea party emerged, built largely on antipathy toward President Barack Obama’s major health care expansion.

“This is a marginal national security group within our party,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said of those who call the government snooping unwarranted or unconstitutional. “I just don’t see how anybody gets elected as a Republican” by running to the “left of Obama on national security,” said Graham, one of the Senate’s most hawkish members.

Leading the libertarian charge is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has clashed with Graham on other issues, including the use of unmanned aircraft to kill terrorism suspects.

Paul told “Fox News Sunday” he would ask “all the Internet providers and all of the phone companies” and their customers to join a class-action lawsuit against surveillance techniques that he called “an extraordinary invasion of privacy.”

“Get a warrant and go after a terrorist, or a murderer or a rapist,” Paul said. “But don’t troll through a billion phone records every day. That is unconstitutional.”

Paul is weighing a possible presidential bid. His father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, drew a loyal libertarian following in his unsuccessful presidential campaigns.

The furor over security and privacy came with the disclosure – in unauthorized leaks to news organizations – of two far-reaching programs run by the National Security Agency. One gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records to – the administration says – search for possible links to known terrorist targets abroad. The other allows the government to tap into nine U.S. Internet companies and gather all communications to detect suspicious behavior that begins overseas.

A handful of congressional liberals have raised complaints similar to Paul’s.

“I want our law enforcement people to be vigorous in going after terrorists,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who has long called himself a socialist, told MSNBC. “But I happen to believe they can do that without disregarding the Constitution.”

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, and it guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. The American Civil Liberties Union – often a target of conservatives’ derision – has filed a lawsuit saying the NSA programs violate those provisions.

Congressional leaders of both parties are mostly defending the surveillance programs. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was especially outspoken Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I’ve been briefed on all of these programs,” Boehner said. “There are clear safeguards,” he said. “There’s no American who’s going to be snooped on, in any way, unless they’re in contact with some terrorists somewhere around the world.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week, “Everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn’t anything that is brand new. It’s been going on for some seven years.” Reid said Congress will “try to make it better.”

It’s not unprecedented for liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans to join forces on issues that essentially bend the left-right spectrum into a circle. Such activists, for example, generally support gay marriage and, in some cases, marijuana legalization.

Those out-in-the-open issues, however, differ from the covert NSA surveillance matter. Public support for gay rights has grown dramatically, and drug legalization is a comparatively low-profile issue.

America was founded by people who railed against a British government they considered oppressive. But Americans also want the federal government to protect them, a task that grew more daunting after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Some tea party-backed senators, who have joined Paul in other causes, are moving cautiously on the NSA matter.

“What we have seen so far is troubling,” but “at this point we don’t have a clear picture of what their policy is,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told reporters Tuesday.

Cruz sought to link the NSA matter to other scandals where Obama’s critics feel on safer ground. That includes the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of tea party-related groups seeking tax-exempt status.

“Given the pattern of misconduct we have seen with the IRS, given the pattern we have seen throughout the administration,” Cruz said, “their past actions do not engender trust.”

Even as some critics say anti-terrorism programs go too far in scooping up electronic records, others say they’ve done too little to thwart terrorist attacks. They cite the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings and the 2009 fatal shooting of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas.

Cruz said both criticisms are warranted.

In the Boston and Fort Hood, cases, he said, “the administration was well aware of the terrorists long before the act of terrorism was committed,” yet, “for whatever reason, dropped the ball and didn’t act to prevent actual terrorists who took the lives of innocents.” Cruz said the government may have been “focusing more energy on casting the net wide and invading the privacy of law-abiding Americans rather than targeting the bad guys.”

A CBS News poll conducted June 9-10 showed that while most approve of government collection of phone records of Americans suspected of terrorist activity and Internet activities of foreigners, a majority disapproved of federal agencies collecting the phone records of ordinary Americans. Thirty percent agreed with the government’s assessment that the revelation of the programs would hurt the U.S.’ ability to prevent future terrorist attacks, while 57 percent said it would have no impact.

Ex-Michigan Congresswoman presides over ET hearings

Ex-U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick of Detroit and six other former Congress members are presiding over hearings on the existence of extraterrestrials.

The 30 hours of congressional-style hearings kicked off on April 29 and are scheduled to run through Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Those testifying hope to prove that aliens contact Earth – and that the government is trying to keep it secret.

Kilpatrick tells The Detroit News (HTTP://BIT.LY/Y8HUMC ) she’d been researching the topic and was “looking forward to the week’s activities.”

Kilpatrick is a Democrat who served in Congress from 1997-2011. Her son, ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, is awaiting sentencing after being convicted on two dozen counts of corruption.

Anti-gay-marriage group fights to keep donors a secret

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments this week on a national anti-gay-marriage group’s efforts to keep its donor list confidential.

The National Organization for Marriage is appealing a Superior Court judge’s decision refusing to vacate subpoenas issued by the Maine Ethics Commission demanding the names of NOM’s donors in a 2009 gay marriage referendum.

Voters that year overturned a law passed by legislators allowing same-sex marriage in Maine. The National Organization for Marriage donated about $1.9 million in the campaign.

Maine’s campaign disclosure law requires groups that raise or spend more than $5,000 to influence elections to register and disclose donors. NOM says the identities of its donors are shielded by the First Amendment.

Oral arguments before Maine’s high court are scheduled for April 11 in Portland.

UN torture chief calls Manning’s treatment ‘cruel’

A United Nations torture chief has called the United States’ treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning cruel, inhuman and degrading. Manning is the gay soldier facing court martial for allegedly giving security secrets to WikiLeaks.

After a 14-month investigation, the UN special rapporteur concluded “imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.”

Speaking at a recent meeting in Geneva, Juan Mendez, the UN’s top official on torture, added, “I believe Bradley Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the excessive and prolonged isolation he was put in during the eight months he was in Quantico.”

The report and Mendez’ statement motivated Manning supporters to urge the Obama administration to allow UN officials to meet with Manning, a request that previously has been denied.

Manning likely will go to trial in May on allegations that he gave more than 700,000 secret U.S. documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks for publication. Prosecutors say WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange collaborated with Manning.

Manning could be imprisoned for life if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge.

During a preliminary hearing in December, military prosecutors produced evidence that Manning downloaded and electronically transferred to WikiLeaks nearly half a million sensitive battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, and video of a deadly 2007 Army helicopter attack that WikiLeaks shared with the world and dubbed “Collateral Murder.”

Defense lawyers claim Manning was a troubled young soldier whom the Army should never have deployed to Iraq or given access to classified material while he was stationed there from late 2009 to mid-2010.

Defense lawyers also say that others had access to Manning’s workplace computers.

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