This article was written by Briana Reilly and originally appeared in The Cap Times on Aug 7, 2019.
The conservative MacIver Institute has filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, alleging his office has excluded the outlet from media events.
The suit, filed in federal court Tuesday, argues the actions are a violation of their reporters’ First Amendment rights guaranteeing press freedom and free speech, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protections clause.
“Gov. Evers should not block MacIver journalists from public press briefings and limit their access to government activities,” MacIver president Brett Healy said in a statement. “Our reporters have the same constitutional rights as every other journalist in Wisconsin, and we have a duty to keep the public informed about what’s happening in state government.”
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said in a statement the administration “provides many opportunities for both reporters and the public to attend open events with the governor.”
“Gov. Evers is committed to openness and transparency in state government, and he believes strongly that a fair and unbiased press corps is essential to our democracy …” she said.
The conservative Wisconsin think tank covers state issues from a conservative perspective. The filing argues other journalists, as well as left-leaning outlets, have been able to cover the new Democratic governor’s events, though MacIver has been barred from them.
Specifically, the filing says news director Bill Osmulski and Matt Kittle, a former reporter for the organization, initially asked Evers’ office to add them to the media list when he first took office in January. But they didn’t receive a response, per the suit, and haven’t received a media advisory notifying them of the governor’s planned news conferences or announcements.
The suit also says the outlet was blocked from attending a late February budget briefing hosted by the governor’s office, which provided reporters with embargoed information about Evers’ proposed two-year spending plan.
Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council President Bill Lueders in an email to the group’s members and supporters called the allegations “deeply troubling and merit the attention of all members of the press and all defenders of open government.”
“I cannot say whether the conduct described is a violation of law, but it certainly is not in keeping with the state’s proud tradition of open government,” he added. “If Tony Evers has what it takes to lead state government, he ought to be able to withstand the inclusion and presence of reporters from a conservative news outlet.”
The suit asks the court to prevent Evers’ office from excluding MacIver from press events and declare that such exclusion is unconstitutional.
A MacIver reporter did attend and ask a question at Evers’ budget signing ceremony in early July, an event hosted by his office in the governor’s conference room at the Capitol.