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Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism looking for answers to budget action

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism uncovers a lot of things – but one thing it doesn’t know is why the center’s being targeted in the new state budget.

The Joint Finance Committee voted early Wednesday to remove the center from its UW-Madison facility, and prohibit university employees from doing any more work for the group.

Center director Andy Hall says he’ll fight to get that measure out of the final version of the budget.

The center is a non-partisan group that conducts investigations into state functions. It offers its reports free to over 230 Wisconsin news organizations. It also hires UW students to help.

The center was created to help the media continue its watchdog role, after the Great Recession cut news staffs and their total story volumes.

Kenosha County Senate Democrat Bob Wirch said it was wrong to target a center that shines light on corruption.

GOP finance chair John Nygren countered that private outlets should be the watchdogs, and public funds should not be involved.

UW-Madison journalism school director Greg Downey says the proposed ban on doing media-related work could damage some major research and teaching. He says UW faculty members often collaborate with outside groups on projects for the media – and the budget measure would cut into their academic freedom.

Hall could not point to any of the center’s recent investigations that spurred the legislative action.

The Center uncovered the physical dispute between Supreme Court Justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley in 2011.

It also pointed out Nygren’s role as an insurance agent, while serving on a committee which considered repeals of state regulations of his industry.