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University donor information up for exemption

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  1. Freedom of Information
The Virginia House of Delegates got one step closer to passing legislation that would allow the University of Virginia to…

The Virginia House of Delegates got one step closer to passing legislation that would allow the University of Virginia to keep private the names of donors who ask for anonymity when making gifts.

If enacted, the bill would grant the school an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act to withhold an indeterminate amount of information about their donors.

On Thursday, the Freedom of Information Act subcommittee of the House Committee on General Laws approved the bill on a 3-2 vote.

Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, said that although she agrees with keeping sensitive information like Social Security numbers private for obvious reasons, withholding the names of donors could create a slippery slope for exempting all sorts of donations to any type of public official or organization.

“This is a huge change in the state,” Stanley said. “If we let one public entity go private in its donations, there’s nothing to stop mayors in small towns, for example. It’ll be hard to see who’s influencing our officials around the state. It opens up the door for that kind of mischief.

Del. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News), who is sponsoring the bill, said the measure helps level out the playing field for University of Virginia and other major colleges in Virginia. He also added that the number of donors requesting anonymity is around 1 percent of the total donors. This bill is a way for the school to honor what those few people want, he said.

Jennifer Perkins, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, countered, however, that most Virginia schools funnel their donations through private foundations, thus all the donor identity information is already declared private by the law. University of Virginia, however, is asking for public donations to the university itself, not a foundation, to be exempt, she said.