Tony Evers has a secret state email account appropriating the name of a dead baseball legend, but he doesn’t think the public has a right to know about it.
Gov. Tony Evers has been communicating with state workers about public business using a secret government email account in the name of a deceased Milwaukee Braves baseball legend, and over 17,000 emails sent to and from the account exist, Wisconsin Right Now has exclusively documented.
But the governor’s office thinks the public has no right to know the account’s name and won’t provide most of the emails. We verified Evers is using the account, first through a source who saw communications between Evers and a state worker, and then through the open records request. The response provided other details that verified it, even though the address was blacked out.
We can reveal: Gov. Evers writes various state workers and cabinet secretaries using the account “[email protected],” a state email account in the name of the Braves’ legend.
The state Department of Administration explained it was blacking out the email account name, writing of the redactions, “The Governor’s non-public official direct email address. Making this email address available would significantly hinder the Governor’s ability to communicate and work efficiently. There is minimal harm to the public interest, given that there are numerous public means to communicate with the Office of the Governor.”
To be clear, this is not a PRIVATE account. It is a state account using taxpayer dollars.
It raises a host of legal questions.
Did the governor provide emails using the Warren Spahn account to people who requested his emails or communications on various topics in the past via open records requests, as required by law? Or were those left out? Was the hidden account designed to circumvent the public’s or media’s right to know about the business the governor is conducting using state resources as a public official? How could the public and media reasonably be expected to know that the email address even existed when attempting to monitor the governor’s actions through open records requests?
If the governor’s office has received open records requests asking for Evers’ emails – or just topics that Evers discussed in the secret Warren Spahn emails, and they did NOT provide them to the requesters, then they are in violation of state open records laws.
State statutes say it’s felony identity theft to use another person’s “identifying information,” which includes another person’s name. The statute applies to the names of deceased people. And, of course, Warren Spahn was a real person. Although it’s doubtful any prosecutor would charge based on an email appropriation of a name only, that’s what the statutes say.
Altogether, it begs the question? Why isn’t he just writing as Tony Evers?
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said he thought the situation was unusual. “I can’t think of this occurring,” he said.
“I will say any records that are created in this account are public records and should be released to anyone that asks for them,” Lueders said, adding that the public is “perfectly entitled” to them.
“To have an account with elements of secrecy to it is a bad idea,” Lueders said. “If the governor has this account to use for public business, the public should know about it. The exchanges are presumptively open.”
The state Department of Administration, which is under Evers’ authority, has blacked out the email account name in an open records response to WRN, arguing that releasing it to the public would imperil Evers’ ability to do his job effectively.
We sent an open records request in September 2023 asking for all communications to and from “[email protected]” from 2018 to September 2023. We sent the request to both the state Department of Administration and the governor’s office. The governor’s office simply denied the request, saying it was too broad, but, in so doing, revealed how heavily it’s been used:
Weirdly, the DOA arbitrarily narrowed our request to a different time frame (through 2021) and to a couple of DOA officials (but not the secretary of DOA, for example). See the full DOA response letter here: FINAL McBride 10885 Response Letter
“Rather than deny your request, we interpret your request to be for records between the Governor and the DOA Secretary’s Office from January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2021,” DOA wrote, saying the request for emails from 2018 to present was too broad. “To that end, we searched the email accounts of Joel Brennan, Chris Patton, Olivia Hwang, and Tia Torhorst, from January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2021.”
That produced a couple of emails in which the Warren Spahn account holder signs his name “Tony” and “Tony Evers” and is referred to as “governor.” See all of the emails the DOA gave us here: Emails_REDACTED
“Malika: Great job at the Black caucus meeting the other day. Thanks. Tony Evers,” says one email from the account.
On May 7, 2020, the email account wrote Brennan, “But we received today at the ER, a box of HIGH GEL RE-ENTERABLE ENCAPSULANT, ordered by Daniel Byerly 7th floor DOA. Looks like some sort of mechanical solvent, highly toxic. Since there is no one here besides FL, me and CP, not sure what to do with it. Please pass on info to Daniel. Thanks. Tony.”
Brennan also sent “Warren Spahn” an email from then MMAC President Tim Sheehy that attached a resolution.
Some of the emails deal with the COVID response. One was from DHS Secretary Andrea Palm to the account and copied a number of Evers’ cabinet secretaries.
Spahn is the 1950s Milwaukee Braves pitching legend who is in the Hall of Fame. Evers has admitted to being a Spahn fanboy in the past; “I’ve been watching baseball in Milwaukee since the County Stadium days when I had the chance of a lifetime to watch Warren Spahn’s 300th-career game there way back when,” he said in February.
When you search the State of Wisconsin government employee directory by the Warren Spahn email, nothing comes up.
Who exactly else has the governor been emailing as Warren Spahn? And about what?
Lucas Vebber, deputy counsel with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, told WRN, “Any state business conducted on any e-mail account (or any other means of electronic communication), whether it is a ‘public’ or ‘non-public’ account, are subject to the state’s public records law. Of course, all of those communications must be retained, and must be made available upon request.”
President Joe Biden used the email pseudonyms Robert Peters and JRB Ware as vice president, which has caused controversy nationally.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney had a Twitter account under the name Pierre Delecto. Former FBI Director James Comey called himself “Reinhold Niebuhr” on Twitter. However, Romney and Comey were using private social media accounts to do so – not governmental email (although government officials using private email or accounts to do public business is still disclosable under open records laws.)
Gov. Evers’ spokeswoman has claimed that the governor released all records from the Spahn account but redacted the address when complying with open records requests. As only a handful of the Spahn emails have been released, WRN has filed a series of new open records requests to check this rhetoric. Evers’ office claims the alias was needed for security.
Evers’ office also claims that former Gov. Scott Walker used an alias account that reversed his first and middle names.
Meanwhile, Warren Spahn’s granddaughter, his closest living kin, has called for Evers to apologize, and has asked him to stop writing political and policy emails using her grandfather’s name.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson says he never used an alias account and criticized the practice as not “right.”
Evers was interviewed on video giving a rambling statement in which he said his email address was Tony Evers “or whatever” and defended both the redactions and use of it.