By Anne Lowe
OPEN GOVERNMENT -- Senator Leland Yee Wednesday rebutted as unfounded predictions by California public university officials that his SB 330, which would bring their non-profit campus auxiliary organizations under the California Public Records Act, would hinder those organizations’ fundraising abilities.
The most prominent examples of auxiliary organizations, campus foundations, have recently been subject to media scrutiny after California State University Stanislaus refused to disclose a $75,000 contract with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for her speech there in June. The organizations—which can also operate numerous campus facilities such as bookstores, food services and housing—are not currently required by the California Public Records Act to disclose their financial or other information to the public.
Yee’s bill would require these auxiliary organizations to disclose information pursuant to that law, but donors to foundations would be allowed to remain anonymous as long as they did not receive a gift valued at more than $500 in return. Despite the ability of donors to remain anonymous under this bill, university officials are still in opposition to it: Administrators are claiming that the disclosure of any donor information would “have a chilling effect on private donations to the Campus Foundations.”
Yee responded to these claims Wednesday with research that proves otherwise.
A case watched closely by public university foundations and open records advocates was settled in February 2005 when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state’s public university foundations must open records to the public.
The ruling – involving records held by the Iowa State University Foundation – stated that the foundation “is performing a government function, and therefore its records are subject to disclosure…The foundation’s activities support a myriad of university programs, scholarships, facilities, and projects. The foundation is plainly performing a government function by virtue of its contract with ISU, and therefore…the Iowa Freedom of Information act mandates disclosure.”
In the year prior to the ruling, Iowa State University, University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa saw a combined $234.6 million in donations to their foundations. Following the ruling, the universities saw a 26 percent increase – an additional $59.9 million – in donations. The subsequent four years after the ruling, Iowa public universities received on average $289.3 million annually in donations – an average of $54.7 million more than the year prior to the ruling.
“The result in Iowa confirms that the ‘chilling effect’ argument drummed up by UC and CSU is specious,” said Jim Ewert, Legal Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “Donors are more willing to give to institutions that operate in the open with nothing to hide so they can ensure that their gifts are not being misused.”
“The evidence demonstrates that transparency does not have a negative effect on donations to university foundations,” said Lillian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association. “Instead, the lack of transparency in the CSU foundations has led to mismanagement and commingling of state and private dollars. As the case in Iowa shows, potential donors want to have confidence that their funds are being used appropriately and both the UC and the CSU are simply making specious arguments so that they can continue to operate in secrecy.”
SB 330 is currently on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk awaiting his signature. He has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill into law.