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University foundation ordered to reveal financial donors

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University foundation ordered to reveal financial donors

  • The University of Louisville Foundation must disclose the names of 45,000 people who have made a donation to the public institution, a state circuit court ruled.

Sep. 22, 2003 — The University of Louisville Foundation, the public university’s fund-raising arm, must disclose the names of approximately 45,000 donors, a state circuit court ruled last week.

The (Louisville) Courier-Journal sued the university in May 2001 under the state’s Open Records Law for copies of expenditure receipts, minutes of meetings, the names of donors, and the amounts of their gifts. In July 2002, Jefferson County Judge Steve Mershon ruled that the foundation was a public institution, paving the way for last Thursday’s ruling.

However, Mershon did allow the university to withhold the names of 62 donors who were promised confidentiality at the time of their donation. Mershon said their right to privacy outweighed the public’s interest.

Courier-Journal attorney Jon Fleischaker disagrees, saying anonymous donations to public institutions should be held to a higher standard of scrutiny, not less.

“In this case it could be an attempt to influence the course of instruction, the course that the university is going to take, in a number of ways,” Fleischaker said. “When you’re dealing with a public institution, it’s not exactly a private matter.”

The U of L Foundation had assets of more than $479 million in 2002, according to the university’s development office.

The U of L Foundation appealed Mershon’s 2002 ruling while the litigation continued in the trial court, and a state appellate court will hear arguments next month. The foundation will also appeal Mershon’s latest decision, The Associated Press reported.

Fleischaker says the newspaper will appeal Thursday’s ruling as well, to gain access to the 62 confidential names.

(Cape Publications Inc. v. the University of Louisville Foundation; Media Counsel: Jon Fleischaker, Dinsmore & Shohl, Louisville) AS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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