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Governor Evers used email alias for security purposes, according to his office

by Baylor Spears, Wisconsin Examiner
November 27, 2023

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has been using an alternate email account under the name of a former Major League Baseball player to communicate with state employees — a practice his office says is used for security purposes and for work efficiency.  

Evers used the email address “warren.spahn@wisconsin.gov” to communicate with other state officials as first reported on Sunday by the conservative outlet Wisconsin Right Now. Warren Spahn, who played 21 seasons in MLB, is a former pitcher for the Milwaukee Braves. 

The outlet reported that in September it requested all communications to and from the account from 2018 to September 2023. The request was made to both the governor’s office and the Department of Administration (DOA). Evers’ office denied the request for being too broad as an initial search identified over 17,000 potentially responsive records. 

The DOA then provided the outlet with emails exchanged by Evers and the DOA secretary from Jan. 1, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2021, which included emails between Evers and other DOA officials.

Evers’ spokesperson Britt Cudaback said in an email on Monday that the use of alias email addresses is a matter of digital security. She said Wisconsin dignitaries, including the governor, first lady and lieutenant governor, have employed alias email addresses during at least the last decade, including under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Cudaback said that all email correspondence are subject to, searched and provided as responsive as required under the state’s open records law. 

“In fact, in every instance in which our office has provided such responsive records, we have explicitly made requesters aware of these addresses, and the purpose of their redaction, in providing responsive records,” Cudaback said. 

Cudaback said the office has language to explain the redaction of non-public official direct email addresses in responsive emails to requesters. 

That language states that making the email address available would “significantly hinder these officials’ ability to communicate and work efficiently” and that “there is minimal harm to the public interest, given that there are numerous public means to communicate with the Office of the [DIGNITARY], and only the address is redacted, not the remaining email content.” 

Emails to the account now generate an automatic reply that they are undeliverable.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said part of the concern about the account is that it was not common knowledge. 

“It may have been known by some people. They say it’s something that’s been done by other governors. There’s not necessarily anything that’s nefarious about the fact that the governor has a separate system,” Leuders said. “It’s just important that the public knows that it exists being that the records there are still considered presumptively open to record requests.” 

Lueders said when there is a revelation that something has been kept from public view that there is a need to reflect on whether it’s a good idea. 

“There are downsides to conducting the public’s business through secret channels,” he said.  

In this case, Lueders said it can “breed distrust for people to find out that there’s been a phantom email account that has been used by the governor for official business. It’s just the fact that it makes people wonder why it’s secret and whether there’s a legitimate need for secrecy and I’m not convinced that there is.”

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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