Apr 1, 2011

Rightwing Republican think tank continues to use FOIA for intimidation

You have to wonder if it's a case of the chicken or the egg with the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the rightwing Republican think tank “Mackinac Center for Public Policy to intimidate and to dig up dirt on opponents.

The partisan Republican think tank, financed by right-wingers like the rightwing billionaire Koch Brothers, submitted a FOIA request last week to the labor studies departments at Wayne State University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan aimed to intimidate pro-labor dissenters and stifle academic freedom.

The FOIA request is seeking emails in which the terms "Scott Walker," "Wisconsin," "Madison" or "Maddow" are being used. This is very similar to the Howell Public Schools infamous E-mail case that began four years ago, and, in fact, it has some of the same players.

In May of 2007 anti-union activist Chet Zarko, who passed away last summer, filed a massive FOIA request with the help of teabagger and former Howell School Board member Wendy Day seeking union emails in a fishing expedition to embarrass the Howell Education Association that were in tough contract negotiations with the school district. It was never determined who was paying Zarko, and he denied anyone was. But it was the Mackinac Center that ended up bankrolling his long court fight.

The district released some emails, but an injunction was issued stopping Zarko from receive any more of the 5,500 emails. However, he published the ones that put the union president in a bad light.

In January of 2010 the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the emails sent and received on Howell Public School computers between union members were not public record, and they concluded that under the FOIA statute the individual teacher’s personal emails were not rendered public records solely because they were captured in the email system’s digital memory. The three-Judge panel said it was a question that must be resolved by the Legislature.

After the death of Zarko, the Mackinac Center continued with the case, but the Michigan Supreme Court has refused to take up the case.

It begs the question if Zarko was being paid by the Mackinac Center, or if the Mackinac Center copied Zarko to use the FOIA as an intimidation tactic against teachers with their bottomless money pit. There is no reason they should get any of the emails based on this case.

It’s ironic that MSNBC host and Rhodes Scholar Rachel Maddow is a target of the rightwing think tank. The Koch Brothers bankrolled the union busting attempt in Wisconsin, and Maddow exposed the fact that they are also bankrolling the stealth union busting attempts in Michigan.

The Koch brothers are financing the Mackinac Center, and it was the Mackinac Center that basically wrote the anti-democratic and anti-union emergency financial managers (EFM) package of bills pushed and signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Rick Snyder, also a former wealthy CEO.

It’s well past the time Mackinac Center loses its non-partisan and nonprofit status so we can see who is funding them. They are not nonpartisan.

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