MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The state will pay $15,000 and a legislator will release more records from a conservative conference she attended to make an investigative group’s lawsuit go away.
The Center for Media and Democracy has asked Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, to turn over records from an American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Oklahoma last May. Vukmir handed over nine pages. CMD sued her in June, alleging she has more documents and demanding she turn them over.
The state Justice Department, which is controlled by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, defended Vukmir in court. DOJ attorneys argued she was immune from the lawsuit because nobody can sue a sitting lawmaker while the Legislature is in session. That argument stunned open government advocates; they contended that under DOJ’s stance no lawmaker could ever be sued because the Legislature is technically in session year-round.
Under a settlement finalized Friday, CMD agreed to drop the lawsuit and Vukmir agreed to turn over all the documents related to CMD’s request. She said in a statement that multiple searches have yielded more records that didn’t come to light initially due to problems with a Yahoo email search.
“I regret the technical issues we had fulfilling this request, but I have now fulfilled the request and turned over all the records,” Vukmir said in the statement. “Additionally, I have worked to identify the problems we encountered through this process and have taken action to ensure that this will not be an issue in the future.”
The settlement also calls for Vukmir to pay $12,500 in court costs and attorney fees as well as $2,500 in damages. DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said the state will make those payments on her behalf.
CMD attorney Brendan Fischer called the damages “significant.” He said he doesn’t buy Vukmir’s explanation about a faulty computer search and neither would a judge. The DOJ agreeing to pay damages amounts to an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, he said.
“We think it’s pretty egregious that it took a lawsuit, an unprecedented claim of legal immunity and months of legal wrangling to turn over records that should have been disclosed a year ago,” Fischer said in a telephone interview.
Fischer also said he’s not sure how many documents and records Vukmir has released. The settlement calls for the DOJ to review the records and redact any information that can be deleted under the state’s open records law.
Brueck declined to comment on Fischer’s remarks.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is a conservative organization that brings legislators and business leaders together to draft model state legislation.