Outcry over JFC ban on UW partnership with journalism group - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

JFC ban on UW partnership with journalism group stirs controversy

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A last minute Republican addition to the state budget is raising concerns among legislators, University of Wisconsin officials and even conservative talk-show hosts.

27 News first reported on Wednesday about the Legislative Joint Finance Committee's motion to prohibit the Center for Investigative Journalism from having its offices at UW-Madison.  The measure, which passed 12-4, also bans UW employees from doing any work for the Center.

Liberals and conservatives alike are criticzing the move, saying it is clearly political in nature.  Charlie Sykes, a popular conservative radio talk-show host in Milwaukee, called the motion "petty" and "vindictive."

But the Republican lawmakers who support the motion weren't backing down on Thursday.  In fact, they went even further.

Since opening at UW-Madison in January of 2009, the non-profit Center for Investigative Journalism has broken a number of big stories.  That includes the revelation that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser put his hands on Justice Ann Walsh Bradley's neck during an argument in June of 2011.

The Center investigates such stories with the help of students from the UW School of Journalism.

"We provide something valuable to those students and to that institution, something they regard as valuable and I think other non-profits do too," said Bill Lueders, the Center's Money and Politics Project Director.

But Republican leaders made it clear again on Thursday that they do not consider that relationship valuable.  However, they also say they're not targeting the center for political reasons.

"We just don't think the taxpayers should pay for the overhead and give benefits to a non-profit," said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), a Co-Chair on the JFC.

Republicans went so far as to say that any arrangement between a UW System school and a non-profit group should be open to legislative oversight.

"If a group wants to have a relationship with the UW, that should be explained to the taxpayers and we're just not for the taxpayer's dollars being used for a non-profit," said Sen. Darling.

UW System Spokesperson David Giroux called that sentiment "troubling."  Giroux says departments on every UW campus collaborate with hundreds of non-profit groups.  One such example at UW-Madison is the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' "Field To Foodbank" partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank, which helps increase the amount of fresh food handed out to hungry families.

GOP lawmakers did not mention any other specific non-profit arrangements they may look into further, but left that option open.

"As we go through this we want to set a policy standard, which is that there should be separation to make sure that no organization receives undue subsidies," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

That standard will begin, but perhaps not end, with the Center for Investigative Journalism.

"For the legislature to step in and cut that off would be a very drastic step," said Lueders.

The Center for Investigative Journalism has an office in Vilas Hall at UW-Madison and has a staff that includes five paid student interns.  Lueders says if the Center is not allowed to have that collaboration with the UW, it could effectively strike a fatal blow to the organization.

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