Bill could increase transparency on U. Connecticut Foundation spending

CONNECTICUT — A bill introduced in the Connecticut General Assembly could require the University of Connecticut Foundation, a non-profit organization, to be more transparent about its spending.

House Bill 5054 was pre-filed by Rep. Gail Lavielle on Wednesday, and if passed, would require the UConn Foundation to disclose to the public every expenditure they make, the same disclosure requirements as government agencies.

James Smith, the president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said it is especially important for public universities to be open about their funds and expenditures.

“We think that the foundation is counter to transparency, and there’s just too much that the public doesn’t know about how the university is operated.”

However, Derek Slap, the associate vice president for external relations for the foundation, said UConn Foundation members worry donations could decrease if it was required to disclose spending. He said there are many reasons people choose to donate anonymously, such as not wanting to disclose their financial status.

“We get gifts like that all the time,” Slap said. “So, one, we need to make sure that their confidentiality is protected. We know that if it’s not or if there’s perception that their information could wind up in the newspaper, the fear is there will be a chilling effect on people coming forward to make gifts.”

Slap said 2014 was a record-setting fundraising year for the foundation, which raised more than $80 million for the university. As a nonprofit organization the foundation is exempt from the state public records law but is required to report its revenue and expenditures to the Internal Revenue Service through a Form 990, which is publicly available.

“So there’s federal oversight, there’s state oversight and there’s never been an accusation of impropriety,” Slap said. “We are in lean budget times for the State of Connecticut. The foundation is adding a lot of value and providing philanthropic support where perhaps the state cannot.”

A similar bill in Connecticut was proposed last year but it died in committee.

Smith said it is the only foundation in New England that is exempt from state open records laws.

“All the other New England premier colleges’ foundations are not exempt from the FOI law, so I think Connecticut needs to get in line with the rest of New England,” Smith said. “We feel there’s just too much secrecy on millions and millions of dollars. Where it comes from, where it’s spent, how it’s used. We’ve been fighting this battle for several years, and we’re hopeful this year it actually might pass.”

Contact SPLC staff writer Mariana Viera by email or at (202) 478-1926.

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