ACLU Fights Sunshine in Wisconsin Recall
When should names on public rolls be kept secret?
Judging by the ACLU's double standard, secrecy is warranted if exposure might reveal voter fraud. On the other hand, if exposure puts marriage supporters at risk for harassment by radical activists...well, then, that's okay.
Unlike its apparent indifference to abuses of pro-marriage donors exposed in California in 2008, the ACLU pressured a Wisconsin agency not to create an online database to verify two million signatures for recalling Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators. The ACLU cites possible threats to victims of domestic violence. This might wash, except that the ACLU is also suing Wisconsin over its photo ID law that curbs voter fraud.
"The GAB [Government Accountability Board] is under no obligation to make it easier for stalkers to find their victims by having a searchable database online," ACLU of Wisconsin spokesman Chris Ahmuty said, according to ABC news affiliate WISN.
On Tuesday, the GAB posted the petitions online without a searchable database and not in alphabetical order, so someone looking for a particular name would have to read through hundreds of thousands of entries. The state GOP, which has until Feb. 26 to challenge the signatures, says it has more than 2,000 volunteers to comb through them looking for fraud.
The ACLU was not always so solicitous of the privacy of petition-signers.
In 2008, the names and addresses of people who gave $100 or more to California's Proposition 8 constitutional marriage amendment campaign were posted by Prop. 8 opponents on websites, complete with marked Google maps, as an invitation to harass them.
In a California lawsuit asking the state to shield the names, James Bopp, attorney for the groups Protect Marriage and the National Organization for Marriage, along with the Alliance Defense Fund, cited "death threats, acts of domestic terrorism, physical violence, threats of physical violence, vandalism of personal property, harassing phone calls, harassing e-mails, blacklisting and boycotts."
"In one instance, a supporter found a flier in his neighborhood calling him a bigot and listing his employer," the New York Times reported. "In another, white powder was sent to a Mormon temple and a facility run by the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic group, which contributed more than $1 million in support of Proposition 8."
On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a Maine law requiring making public the names of people who donated to the successful "people's veto" campaign to overturn a same-sex "marriage" law in 2009. It's fair to say that the goal of the activists who filed the suit is to open these people to harassment similar to that endured by Prop 8 donors in California. The ACLU, which donated $10,000 in 2009 to the campaign against the "people's veto," did not object to making the list public.
"When you're petitioning, there's a strong public interest in allowing the public to see who's on those petitions because it gives them confidence that the petitions meet the thresholds," Kennedy said, noting the difference between petitions and ballots.
"It's a part of democracy, where instead of casting your vote in secret so you won't be intimidated, it's really saying if you care passionately about something, whether it's nominating someone to run for office or getting some issue on the ballot or trying to recall someone, you're putting your name out there and saying you want this to happen," Kennedy said.
The recall campaign against Gov. Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four GOP senators began in November 2011 over the Republicans' enactment of legislation that curbed public employee union power. An initial recall election unseated two Republican state senators but failed to turn over the Senate to Democrats, leaving Republicans with a one-seat majority.
For the Walker recall, about 1.1 million signatures were collected, with another 845,000 for Kleefisch. To make the ballot, at least 540,208 signatures must be verified, and the recall elections could take place this summer. Petitions with about 20,000 to 24,000 signatures were turned in for four more GOP senators, with between 14,958 and 16,742 valid signatures needed for each district.
In Wisconsin recall elections, challengers run at the same time. The Democrats do not yet have a candidate and say they will hold a primary. A Jan. 25 Marquette University poll showed Walker leading several possible challengers.
On Jan. 5, Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis ruled that the GAB needed to take more aggressive action in verifying signatures following a lawsuit by Gov. Walker's campaign committee and the state GOP.
Steven M. Biskupic, attorney for the Republicans, cited a media report that a man claimed to have signed recall petitions 80 times "and submitted a petition from last summer's attempt to recall Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover), in which the accountability board allowed a 'Bugs Bunny' signature to be counted," the Wall Street Journal reported. "Kennedy said the signature was counted because Holperin didn't follow the proper procedures for challenging it.
"In his ruling, Davis said, 'Counting the signature of Bugs Bunny is something only lawyers could try to make seem OK.'"
Robert Knight is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.
The ACLU of Southern California opposed the lawsuit.
"This trashes the 1st Amendment and it is a thinly veiled attempt to eliminate transparency as to the role of money in state election campaigns," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California.
In Wisconsin, GAB spokesman Kevin Kennedy
said that publishing the recall petition names was a matter of public record.