Legislators seek to keep university donors’ names secret

Adriane Hardin

It may be possible for money to be given on the down low to Kentucky’s state universities.

State and university officials say donors’ information needs to be further protected, but others argue that the public should have access to the names of donors.

An amendment to the state Senate’s budget bill would allow individuals and corporations to make confidential donations to public colleges and universities.

The Senate amendment would allow donors’ names and contributions to be made public only if they donor gives written permission.

Otherwise, the donors names could not be made public.

Someone who donates a six or seven figure monetary gift may not want others to know they have given so much money, said Tom Hiles, vice president for Institutional Advancement. Donors may be unwillingly contacted by charities or family members who are also seeking money, he said.

David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, disagrees.

“People know who contributes and who doesn’t,” Thompson said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with them being harassed at all.”

Thompson said donors should have to request confidentiality – it shouldn’t be automatic.

State Sen. Walter Blevins Jr., D-West Liberty, said he believes the amendment is an attempt to cover up donations that may stem from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s supporters.

“I think government is better when you put sunshine on it, and obviously they don’t like sunshine,” he said.

Western supports the amendment to the bill, Hiles said.

The university keeps money collected from fundraising in university foundations, he said.

He said those foundations have nothing to hide, but they try to protect donors who do not want their names to be publicly released.

“We include information sometimes in our files that should not be public record,” Hiles said.

President Gary Ransdell agrees.

But he said the amendment puts too many stipulations on universities to keep donors’ identities concealed.

“It’d be fine,” he said. “We could work within it, but I think it goes too far.”

The university needs to be able to assure donors confidentiality if they request it, he said.

He said Western likes to publicize donors’ gifts unless they request confidentiality.

Such requests are rare, he said.

The amendment would also allow the donations of corporations to be confidential.

The amendment comes while a controversy continues between a University of Louisville foundation and The Courier-Journal in Louisville over public records.

State Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he supports the amendment and believes confidentiality should be guaranteed for corporate and private donors.

“I think people are trying to make something sinister out of something that isn’t …” Stivers said. “I think they’re trying to find boogeymen and everything else in these things, and there is not.”

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