Wisconsin Watch’s guiding values: Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Explore solutions to problems. Here are some ways our work is having real impact:
The Wisconsin Humanities Council is using Los Lecheros (Dairy Farmers), our 21-minute documentary, as a catalyst for community immigration discussions. A blog post about their efforts read, “Who are these undocumented people? We need the story. Los Lecheros takes you into a Wisconsin dairy barn to talk to undocumented workers and the farmer who employs them.”
Dozens of people attended the community events in Dubuque, Verona and Darlington, with additional events scheduled. Some grew up on dairy farms and shared a similar plight in having difficulty finding people able and interested in farming.
The Chinatown job agency accused of exploiting Latino workers will cease operations, according to a consent decree approved by a federal court judge. The court-ordered closure came just days after the Chicago Sun-Times and Wisconsin Watch published a special report putting the spotlight on Xing Ying and other agencies accused of exploiting undocumented workers. The U.S. Department of Labor also released an initiative to help restaurants in Wisconsin comply with wage laws four days after the Center published its report on labor trafficking.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice wrote a column titled “Sen. Leah Vukmir and Democrats clash over impact of nursing home law she supported.” The column mentions Wisconsin Watch’s 2011 report on tort reform law which showed how the law “has made it more difficult to hold nursing homes accountable for wrongdoing by keeping this crucial evidence out of court.”
Wisconsin Watch published a report by Pawan Naidu explaining how big campaign donations increasingly influence politicians in Wisconsin. Pat Nash wrote a column, picked up by the Baraboo News Republic and at least five other news organizations that mentioned and quoted our secret campaign cash coverage. It read, “Big money is fighting for Republicans to hold the majority in the state legislature.”
Jamie Gilford, Clery Program director at University of Wisconsin Police Department, wrote an email to Wisconsin Watch Managing Editor Dee J. Hall and Digital and Multimedia Director Coburn Dukehart expressing her gratitude for our report covering campus sexual assaults. Gilford’s note said, “I wanted to say how much I appreciated the article you published in Madison Magazine in September. Sexual assault is always a challenging topic to cover and navigating the intersecting laws regarding report-tracking can be very disorienting for most people. I think you did an excellent job accurately explaining the data and fairly putting it into context. Quality journalism like this does much to advance our understanding of the prevalence of sexual assault in our communities, the actions we are taking to combat it, and all of the work we have left to do. As someone who also takes a professional interest in institutional transparency, thank you.”
The Wisconsin Election Commission corrected one of the largest flaws in the state’s election-security program in a unanimous vote to revise their policy for biennial voting-machine audits. By introducing the possibility that hacked results could be detected and corrected before election results were certified, audits became a security measure for the first time. Beginning later in 2018, the Commission randomly selected 5% of all voting machines statewide on the day after the November general election and order the municipal clerks to conduct public hand counts of those machines’ paper ballots in four key races. The audits must be completed before election results are certified.
In previous years, Wisconsin’s election officials audited only after they finalized results. This major flaw consistently put Wisconsin in the lower half of the 50 states’ election security rankings. Post-election audits using paper ballots are considered critical for election security because officials have no other way to detect Election-Day computer errors. Local officials can keep software secure while it is in their possession, but they have no way to assess whether it was adequately secured before then. Lack of IT expertise and the voting-machine manufacturers’ claims of proprietary secrecy prevent election officials from examining the software directly. Pre-election tests cannot prevent Election-Day computer errors or glitches, nor can they detect malicious code designed to operate only on Election Day. In August 2018, The Green Bay Press Gazette published a column entitled “Give Wisconsin Elections Commission input on election security.” The column cited Wisconsin Watch’s coverage of election security in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout wrote a column about the tactics used by majority party leadership used to rush bills through the Legislature in Madison. Vinehout discusses how speed sacrifices public input and prevents thoughtful debate in the lawmaking process. The column heavily cited Wisconsin Watch’s coverage of the speed of lawmaking in Wisconsin. The column was picked up by news organizations across Wisconsin, including the The Cap Times, Mondovi Herald News and Woodville Leader.
The Badger Herald published a column titled “State’s GPS bracelet system inefficient, ineffective in monitoring offenders.” The column heavily cited Wisconsin Watch’s coverage of the state Department of Corrections’ GPS monitoring program. The stories showed that five years after Wisconsin Watch first revealed technical problems that were prompting offenders to be jailed when they had not committed any violations, some of the same problems remained.
Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, introduced a bill to reinstate the state False Claims Act and effectively restore “the ability of a private individual, or whistleblower, to bring a qui tam claim against a person or entity who makes a false claim for Medicaid.” Wisconsin Watch had reported that the state was missing out on at least $11 million in reimbursements for alleged fraud after the law was quietly repealed in 2015
WISDOM referenced our reporting in a July 2017 press release about the risks faced by Wisconsin consumers in regard to payday loans and called for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to issue a strong payday lending rule.
Precious Lives was a collaborative project with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Public Radio and 371 Productions covering gun violence in Milwaukee and across the state, highlighting the effects of gun violence on young populations. Precious Lives received two gold awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, top honors from the National Association of Black Journalists and was a national finalist for the prestigious Peabody Award for broadcast journalism. Precious Lives stories were shared on social media by prominent organizations and figures such as National Public Radio, Reveal, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Rep. Mark Pocan and CNN correspondent Jake Tapper. The project was also featured in a segment on All Things Considered.
The Wisconsin Department of Corrections proposed a program for Wisconsin inmates similar to one highlighted in a Wisconsin Watch story, in which Colorado prisoners in solitary confinement are allowed up to 20 hours a week out of their cells.
Alexandra Arriaga’s story on firearm background checks was featured on the front pages of 12 newspapers and prompted 10 columns/editorial responses. The story and its sidebars were picked up 56 times.
Wisconsin Watch’s Failure at the Faucet series sparked a statewide conversation on the risks to the state’s drinking water, sparking several pieces of legislation aimed boosting childhood lead testing and initiatives to replace aging lead pipes The investigation revealed that hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin are at risk of drinking water with unsafe levels of nitrate, bacteria, arsenic, lead and other contaminants.
Gov. Tony Evers declared 2019 The Year of Clean Drinking Water, citing statistics from our series. Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, introduced a bill calling for tap water testing when a child is lead poisoned. Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, introduced the Leading on Lead Act, which facilitates the replacement of lead service lines delivering drinking water. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources updated water sampling protocols for operators of thousands of public water systems after Wisconsin Watch revealed a nine-month delay in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, lead water crisis.
Three stories from Wisconsin Watch’s Failure at the Faucet series prompted other news organizations to customize reports based on our work. The Stoughton Courier Hub investigated its city’s efforts to examine lead in school water, and the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram did a similar investigation into lead in water.
Wisconsin U.S. Sen.Tammy Baldwin cited our ‘Failure at the Faucet’ investigations in a newsletter to her constituents, urging supporters to demand that “Congress prioritize the safety of our drinking water.”
In April 2016, John Oliver, a comedian and television personality, mentioned the Center’s investigation into lead pipes on his show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” in a segment discussing issues of lead poisoning in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.Chris Johnson of the Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC) said his organization relied on data from WCIJ for its campaign, which seeks to pressure Milwaukee into getting rid of its lead pipes.
“The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) was instrumental in sharing research data on lead in water and lead poisoning of children with FLAC,” Johnson said. “WCIJ was also instrumental in bringing attention to Milwaukee’s lead water crisis to a much broader audience when none of the other local media outlets would report about this issue. WCIJ was very impactful in bringing attention to this public health crisis.”
Wisconsin Watch identified 40 allegations of physical or psychological abuse by correctional officers against inmates in Waupun Correctional Institution’s segregation unit since 2011. The investigation took five months and cost $40,000 — a tenth of the Center’s entire budget and resources that few Wisconsin news organizations would be able to muster. The series prompted an interfaith advocacy group to ask Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to investigate the abuse allegations. Saying that the series proved the state Department of Corrections “routinely engages in torture,” the group requested an independent investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice because the DOC “cannot be asked to investigate itself.” Six Democratic legislators wrote to Walker to demand action. The agency later reported revised its disciplinary rules, including the use of segregation.
After we reported that Gov. Scott Walker was failing to apply for federal funds to help thousands of disabled state residents get job training and support, the governor reversed his position, accepting $15 million and eliminating a waiting list of 3,000 people with disabilities seeking to join the state labor force.
In response to our report on Wisconsin’s GPS tracking of offenders, the head of the Assembly Committee on Corrections called a legislative hearing to question the Department of Corrections. At the hearing, another legislator read aloud portions of Wisconsin Watch’s story when questioning the DOC’s director of sex offender programs. Citing the reporting as a factor, the state Legislature’s budget committee scaled back a planned expansion of the GPS monitoring program for offenders — and called for a study of the system’s reliability.
Our reporting on frac sand mining in Wisconsin created a rush of its own. Other news organizations locally and nationally jumped in to begin telling the story of this side effect of the controversial practice of “fracking.” The state DNRbegan to study the effects of sand mining on Wisconsin residents. And the state Department of Transportation has consulted our reporting in its effort to quantify the effects of the burgeoning sand rush on Wisconsin’s highways and railroads. Our frac sand project page remains a trusted source of information and in April 2015, we produced an innovative, entertaining video that uses grains of sand to summarize key issues in the nation’s No. 1 frac sand mining state.
A group of University of Madison-Wisconsin students, led by Wisconsin Watch intern Amy Karon, exposed misleading nutrition claims by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s $30 million a year pro-dairy campaign. The state milk board removed misleading dairy weight loss claims from its website the day our story was published.
A computer-aided analysis of a sample of 50,000 e-mails sent to Gov. Scott Walker found Walker accurately said most were supportive – but a third of supporters were from other states. We discovered one came from an Indiana GOP activist and prosecutor who urged a “false flag” operation to fake a physical attack on the governor and discredit pro-union protesters.. The follow-up story led to the immediate resignation of the Indiana prosecutor.
A collaborative investigation revealed allegations of a physical altercation between two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices in a nationally significant collective bargaining case. Separate legal and ethics investigations were launched to examine the Supreme Court incident, prompting calls to replace judicial elections with merit selection, and Justice David Prosser faced three ethics charges. JThe high court deadlocked on whether to discipline one of its own members.
Even before it was published, Wisconsin Watch’s story on campus sexual assaults prompted the University of Wisconsin-Madison dean of students to vow to improve the treatment of students who report abuse. University officials also created a webpage to improve public access to sexual assault data that previously were available only through public records requests.
After our story on questionable tactics used by a for-profit college, Wisconsin regulators ordered Westwood College to halt enrollment until problems were corrected.
Our story on the tragedy of high suicide rates among Native Americans in Wisconsin brought nationwide attention to the issue, and a former Menominee Reservation resident donated $5,000 to a local Boys & Girls Club.