Nearly all of Wisconsin's Republican state lawmakers took the unusual step of signing a legal agreement in which they promised to not comment publicly about redistricting discussions while new GOP-friendly maps were being drafted, a newspaper reported.
The agreement was included in newly released documents in a federal lawsuit challenging the new district lines. Also included in the documents was a GOP memo outlining talking points that stressed anyone who discussed the maps could be called as a witness in the case. The memo also warned Republicans to ignore public comments about the maps and focus instead on what was being said in private strategy meetings.
Republican lawmakers had fought to keep the documents confidential, but they relented after a three-judge panel found their arguments frivolous.
The non-disclosure agreement prohibited the lawmakers from speaking publicly about the redistricting talks or from leaking any draft documents they possessed, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday.
The agreement also was signed by attorney Eric McLeod, of Michael Best & Friedrich, who advised lawmakers on the maps. McLeod recently drew attention for giving free legal services to state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
Legislative leaders sometimes ask the rank-and-file to keep quiet about sensitive legislation, but they don't typically ask them to sign non-disclosure agreements. Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, told the newspaper he hadn't been asked to sign such an agreement during his 40 years in office.
Republicans had the maps drafted in Michael Best's Madison offices and believed the process they used granted them attorney-client privilege.
Immigrant group Voces de la Frontera filed a complaint in Dane County Monday alleging the Republicans broke the state's open meetings law.
"This is an intentional plan to legislate in secret under the guise of attorney-client privilege," the group's attorney, Peter Earle, told the Journal Sentinel.
As for the talking points, electronic records show they were created by "afoltz," an apparent reference to Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald aide Adam Foltz. In a deposition last Wednesday, Foltz said he probably helped write the talking points but didn't specifically remember doing so, the Journal Sentinel reported. When asked what was meant by asking Republicans to ignore public comments, he believed it meant to ignore comments from the public at large, not those made publicly by legislative leaders.
"I honestly don't know exactly what it's referring to there," Foltz said, according to the Journal Sentinel.
States must redraw legislative and congressional districts every 10 years to reflect population changes reflected in the U.S. Census. Republicans control state government and Wisconsin and drew maps last year that benefit them.
Even before the maps were released, a group of Democratic citizens sued in federal court challenging the maps' constitutionality. The case is set to go before a three-judge panel later this month.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, declined through aides to comment to the Journal Sentinel. Aides told The Associated Press Tuesday they would check again to see if either lawmaker wanted to talk.