The MacIver Institute for Public Policy is suing Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, claiming he has barred its journalists from media briefings and refused to provide them with news releases and other information that is shared with other media in the state.
The institute is a conservative, free market think tank with a news division.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in federal court in Madison, claims Evers is violating MacIver journalists' First Amendment rights to free speech, freedom of the press and equal access by excluding them from news briefings and refusing to send them news releases.
“Gov. Evers should not block MacIver journalists from public press briefings and limit their access to government activities," Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute, said in a news release. "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.”
MacIver said its news division has tried unsuccessfully for months to resolve its access concerns with the Evers administration outside of court, but to no avail. Evers, however, does grant access to press briefings to left-leaning news outlets and organizations, MacIver said, including The Progressive Magazine, Devil’s Advocate Radio and One Wisconsin Now.
“While we hoped Gov. Evers would do the right thing and treat our journalists the way they treat others, the administration has refused. We now have no option but to sue," Healy said. "A free and vibrant press is critical to democracy, and to ensuring the people of Wisconsin are informed and engaged on what’s happening in their state. We hope to quickly resolve this issue, not just so that our journalists can go about their important work but to ensure no future governor engages in the same unconstitutional practices.”
Evers' office did not directly address the claims from the lawsuit, but said that "members" of the MacIver Institute "have attended several of the governor's events." That includes the budget signing at the Capitol.
Melissa Baldauff, Evers’ communications director, said in a statement that the administration is committed to transparency.
“Our administration provides many opportunities for both reporters and the public to attend open events with the governor," Baldauff said. "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, especially now as Wisconsinites and all Americans are calling for accountability from elected officials who refuse to take action on gun safety reform, healthcare, and the hatred and violence borne of white supremacy."
Bill Lueders, editor of The Progressive and president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, called MacIver's claims in the lawsuit "troubling."
"These allegations are deeply troubling and merit the attention of all members of the press and all defenders of open government," Lueders said. "Because I am not a lawyer and this area of the law is complex, 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. 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 Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center is representing MacIver in its lawsuit.