Sen. McLachlan’s push for more transparent UConn Foundation runs into “buzz saw of opposition” (Hartford Courant)

March 31, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

Bill To Make UConn Foundation Subject To FOI Laws Dies

HARTFORD — A committee failed to vote Monday to force the UConn Foundation to be subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act — effectively killing the bill.

The government administration and elections committee held a hearing on the bill recently, but it was not placed on the agenda Monday by the Democratic-controlled committee.

Foundation Secrecy Raises Questions
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, made a motion to place the item on the agenda and force a vote on the bill, which the foundation has strongly opposed. McLachlan said that bill “has run into a buzz saw of opposition for all the wrong reasons.”

Foundation officials have testified that the organization should not be subject to freedom of information laws because many donors want to remain anonymous. McLachlan and others, however, said they are not interested in the amounts the donors are giving, but are instead interested in how millions of dollars are spent by the foundation.

“Let us do what is done in states across the country,” McLachlan said, that is, adopt an exclusion for donor funds. “We can’t say that the University of Connecticut Foundation is not intricately part of the University of Connecticut.”

UConn officials have said that treating the private foundation as the equivalent of a public state agency could have a “chilling effect” on donations and place the foundation at a competitive disadvantage when seeking contributions.

Some legislators have been pushing since at least 2005 for more transparency regarding millions of dollars of foundation expenses. For example, the foundation bought a three-story, 12-room house on Scarborough Street in Hartford’s West End for use by the university president and agreed to pay more than $250,000 to former Secretary of State Hilllary Rodham Clinton for a speech on campus.

Citing an annual financial report by the state comptroller, McLachlan said that a series of quasi-public state agencies “are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, except the University of Connecticut Foundation. Why?”

“I’m still not getting it. The argument always goes back to: Our donors want to remain anonymous,” McLachlan said. “If they want to keep that anonymous, so be it, but don’t put their name on a building.

“This is an important matter of principle and openness in state government. We love our Huskies, and we want them to win. But that doesn’t set aside a number of questions that have arisen.”

The committee’s Democratic co-chairman, Rep. Ed Jutila, D-Niantic, said it would be unfair to add the issue to the agenda at the last minute because lobbyists on both sides of the issue had not had a chance to speak to legislators because they were under the assumption the issue would not be discussed on Monday.

On a voice vote, the committee rejected McLachlan’s motion to place the item on the agenda, in effect killing the bill at the committee level. The issue could come up again in the form of an amendment on the House or Senate floor in the next two months, but the rejection Monday reflects the views of a majority of the committee members against taking any action.