Elected official presses charges over cartoonist's gag

Wisconsin state assemblyman Steve Nass (R-La Grange) has filed criminal charges against political cartoonist Mike Konopacki, claiming that Konopacki's use of Nass' letterhead for a gag press release constitutes a felony.

It all started when Nass pressured officials at the University of Wisconsin's School for Workers to cancel an arts festival, "The Art of Protest," that would have featured cartoons and other works of art inspired by the labor protests that took place in the state last year. The school called off the festival after Nass and his chief of staff, Mike Mikalsen, threatened to cut the school's funding. Mikalsen said upfront that Nass feels the funding for the school should be cut altogether, and added, "But we mostly reminded them that Rep. Nass and other Republicans are working closely with UW-Extension on WiscNet and some other pretty important issues, and that if this issue were to go bad and upset conservatives and our supporters around the state, we'd have a problem working together."

In other words: Nice little school you've got there. It would be a shame if something were to happen to the funding.

Konopacki, a freelance cartoonist for local progressive paper The Capital Times, a part-time lecturer at the school and one of the organizers of the festival, called the cancellation "an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and is an attack on academic freedom." And then he put together a gag press release using Nass's letterhead (taken from a legit online press release), in which Nass claims he is working with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson to remove Wisconsin labor protest artwork from the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The Capital Times posted the press release briefly before realizing it was fake and issuing a retraction.

According to Newsvine, Mikalsen contacted the local police and after some investigation, Nass decided to file formal charges against Konopacki for "misuse of letterhead," which is a felony. Konopacki, for his part, is unrepentant:

I put words in politicians’ mouths all the time, and it’s never been a problem. Parody and satire are my stock-in-trade. Nass has used his position to attack freedom of speech, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and labor education. And he thinks I’ve done something criminal?

(via The Daily Cartoonist)

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