2006 Wisconsin SIRS/Proquest Award Winner

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Dee J. Hall

Dee J. Hall, investigative reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, is being honored with the Wisconsin SIRS/Proquest Intellectual Freedom Award for her dogged pursuit of the Capitol caucus scandal that resulted in the recent convictions of several top Wisconsin lawmakers.

The September primary of 2000 saw Hall covering what usually would be a mundane assignment: the race in the 79th Assembly district.  When the Democratic candidate’s husband died somewhat suddenly Primary day, Hall tried to find out if the candidate would stay in the race.  Speaking to her campaign manager, Hall detected discomfort in the manager’s voice when he was reluctant to have his name in the paper. 

Hall sensed something was awry.  She soon found out that the manager was a state employee working for the Assembly Democratic Caucus, one of four caucuses. These employees were supposed to provide policy and research support for state legislators, not work on campaigns on state time.

Rumors had flourished for years about such illegal work and watchdog groups, like Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, had tried to draw attention to this tawdry activity, but to no avail.  Ms. Hall, not a Capitol reporter, convinced her editors to let her follow up on this lead.  Soon she was interviewing former caucus workers and discovering that they routinely did campaign work on state time from state offices.

As the investigation grew, Hall was joined by fellow reporter Phil Brinkman.  They were met with stonewalling and outright lies.  Their big break came when, after numerous meetings with Lyndee Wall, a former Republican Assembly caucus staffer, Ms. Wall agreed to share over 250 pages of documents implicating her bosses in the scandal. 

A State Journal series began on May 20, 2001, under the headline, “State Employees Secretly Campaign”.  The stories were solid and bi-partisan.  Brian Blanchard, the Dane County D.A. began a criminal investigation the next month. The big guns went down: Chvala, Burke, Jensen, Foti: all party leaders. 

While downplaying her role in breaking the scandal, Hall does think that the series and subsequent stories have helped draw a line in the sand between state and campaign work.

Hall’s feisty efforts have not gone unnoticed. She and Brinkman were finalists for Harvard’s Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2003.  Dee also won the Milwaukee Press Club’s  Newspaper Journalist of the Year Award for 2005.

So it is with great pleasure that the Intellectual Freedom Roundtable is honoring Ms. Hall, who challenged the system of Capitol corruption and brought what previously had been hidden to the light of day. 

The award (a plaque and $1,000.00 provided by Proquest) will be presented to Ms. Hall at the WLA Awards Banquet on Thursday night, November 2nd.

The Wisconsin SIRS/Proquest Intellectual Freedom Award, established in 1995 to recognize the contribution of an individual or group who has actively promoted intellectual freedom in Wisconsin, will be given out this year at the WLA Conference.  The award was last presented to Senator Russ Feingold in 2003