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At 6 a.m. Wednesday, the Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin state legislature inserted an odd provision into the budget bill. It boots the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Reporting off the University of Wisconsin campus.
The bill would "prohibit the Board of Regents from permitting the Center for Investigative Journalism to occupy any facilities owned or leased by the Board of Regents." It also would "prohibit UW employees from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee."
According to the center, it currently "operates in two small offices in Vilas Communication Hall -- used by its four-member professional staff and four UW-Madison reporting interns -- under a Facilities Use Agreement that requires the Center to provide paid internships, classroom collaborations, guest lectures and other educational services."
The center's executive director Andy Hall said he was "blindsided" by the move by Joint Finance. "Today I'm overwhelmed by messages of support from journalists and journalism educators, here and across the nation," said Hall. "They're concerned that the Joint Finance Committee's action could have a ripple effect, limiting the public's access to critical information that holds the government accountable, threatening the operations of other campus-based nonprofit journalism centers across the nation, and unreasonably restricting academic freedoms of educators to draw upon the best resources for educating students."
Here's my speculation: The Republican legislators were retaliating against the center because of a blockbuster story by Bill Lueders, its "Money and Politics" project director. Among the fantastic stories Lueders has produced was the one he broke about State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser (a former Republican Speaker of the Assembly), who tried to choke fellow justice Ann Walsh Bradley.
Are they that petty? I wouldn't put it past them.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story Stop the Trial of Bradley Manning.
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.