March 25, 2011- The Republican Party of Wisconsin has made an open records request for the e-mails of a University of Wisconsin professor of history, geography and environmental studies in an apparent response to a blog post the professor wrote about a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Professor William J. Cronon, who is the president-elect of the American Historical Association, said in an interview Friday that the party asked for e-mails starting Jan. 1.
The request was made by Stephan Thompson of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. In his request, Thompson asked for e-mails of Cronon's state e-mail account that "reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell."
Most of the names are Republican legislators. Marty Beil is the head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union and Mary Bell is the head of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
Cronon said the university had not yet complied with the open records request. The e-mails would be subject to the state's open records law because they were written on an university e-mail account.
The university has an e-mail policy that states, "University employees may not use these resources to support the nomination of any person for political office or to influence a vote in any election or referendum.”
Cronon said he did not violate the policy in any way. "I really object in principle to this inquiry," Cronon said of the party's open records request.
Thompson was not available for comment. But in an statement, Mark Jefferson, the party's executive director, said, "Like anyone else who makes an open records request in Wisconsin, the Republican Party of Wisconsin does not have to give a reason for doing so.
"I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government.
"Further, it is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open records request. Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. The Left is far more aggressive in this state than the Right in its use of open records requests, yet these rights do extend beyond the liberal left and members of the media.
"Finally, I find it appalling that Professor Cronon seems to have plenty of time to round up reporters from around the nation to push the Republican Party of Wisconsin into explaining its motives behind a lawful open records request, but has apparently not found time to provide any of the requested information.
"We look forward to the University’s prompt response to our request and hope those who seek to intimidate us from making such requests will reconsider their actions.”