Taxpayers on the hook for nearly $2,000 for Democratic state lawmaker's open records settlement

MILWAUKEE -- Taxpayers will pay nearly $2,000 for Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff after he tried to charge a conservative group thousands of dollars to copy open records the group had requested electronically.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty announced the settlement on Thursday, May 3. Brostoff has represented Milwaukee's east side since 2015.

Cameron Sholty, a spokeswoman for the conservative group, said it had requested emails on occupational licensing legislation from Brostoff in 2017. Instead of providing the emails in electronic format as requested, Brostoff printed off copies and sent the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty an invoice for $3,279.76, Sholty said.

The group sued Brostoff in Dane County Circuit Court in February. The lawmaker quickly provided the emails electronically, waived the printing fee, and agreed to pay court costs and attorneys' fees of $1,822.14, Sholty said.

Brostoff said he was acting on the advice of Assembly Chief Clerk Patrick Fuller by printing copies of the records. He said Assembly leaders should revise their policy on access to electronic records.

“This is the cost of having guidelines where a speaker and the culture set by the speaker is going to allow for that," Brostoff said, when asked if he would personally pay for some or all of the settlement.

Brostoff said he "just didn't think it was best" to fight the lawsuit, noting a difference between his decision and how state Rep. Scott Krug has prolonged a similar open records case.

A Dane County judge ruled in January that Krug, R-Nekoosa, must provide records electronically to Bill Lueders, a journalist and president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed the judge's ruling in March. The case is pending before a Wisconsin appeals court.

"We’re taking two very different routes on this," Brostoff said.

Tom Kamenick, deputy counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, urged the appeals court to rule "in the interest of open government and efficient use of public resources" in the Krug case.

"It defies common sense -- and the law -- for the Legislature to waste taxpayer resources by printing out electronic records that could cheaply and quickly be provided via email, file sharing website, or CD," Kamenick said in a statement.