The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has been reporting on efforts to break through the secrecy surrounding the University of Louisville Foundation.
Like the University of Hawaii Foundation, it is a nonprofit organization that serves as the university’s fundraising arm.
KCIR reports that the state’s attorney general has issued several rulings that the foundation’s failure to provide certain records has violated the state’s public records law.
This is not an isolated case. Our newsroom has at least four other pending appeals related to U of L or the foundation’s failures to provide records.
The purpose of the Open Records Act is clear: Public records should be made available to the public quickly and expediently.
Nonetheless, when dealing with U of L and the foundation, it’s an adventure of interminable delays, obfuscation, missed deadlines and more. We are left with no options but to appeal to the attorney general. It’s become routine.
A Kentucky Supreme Court decision in 2008 affirmed that the foundation is a public agency, at least for purposes of the state’s public records law. The case involved a request for identifying information of some 47,000 persons who had contributed to the university through the foundation. The court held that the donor records are personal records, and then had to weigh the privacy interests of donors against the public interest in disclosure.
The public has a legitimate interest in the functions of the Foundation. ? As noted above, the Court of Appeals determined that the Foundation is a public agency within the meaning of the Open Records Act, and that ruling has not been disturbed by this Court. ? The Court of Appeals’ conclusion was predicated on the finding that the Foundation and the University essentially act as one and the same, and that the Foundation was established, created, and wholly controlled by the University. ? As a public institution that receives taxpayer dollars, the public certainly has an interest in the operation and administration of the University.
The Foundation’s stated goal is to advance the charitable and educational purposes of the University of Louisville. ? To this end, it solicits, receives, and spends money and other assets on behalf of the University. ? The public’s legitimate interest in the University’s operations then logically extends to the operations of the Foundation.
Moreover, the Courier-Journal has argued, and we agree, that certain donors may not simply wish to conceal their identities, but rather may wish to conceal the true purposes of their donations. ? Donors, particularly those making substantial gifts, may wish to influence the University’s decisions and policies, or to have some type of benefit conferred upon them by the University. ? The record supports this contention-several anonymous donors specifically indicated that their gifts were being made with the understanding that they would receive tickets to athletic functions. ? Accordingly, we agree that the public’s interest is particularly piqued by large donations from anonymous donors, and that a legitimate question of influence is raised by such circumstances. [case citations removed]
After reviewing the facts, the court ruled that all but 62 of the donors had to be disclosed. The 62 held exempt from disclosure had requested anonymity prior to the decision that the Foundation is subject to the state’s public records law and donors identities a matter of public record.
In Hawaii, I believe the status of the UH Foundation is still controversial. A 1997 opinion by the Office of Information Practices held that all donor information is exempt from disclosure, but I don’t think this issue has gone up to the Hawaii Supreme Court. At least such a case doesn’t appear in OIP’s listing of prior Hawaii court decisions.