Our View: Eliminate UConn Foundation’s FOI exemption [Norwich Bulletin]

April 9, 2015

Editorial as it appeared in the Norwich Bulletin

Legislative efforts to require the UConn Foundation to adhere to Freedom of Information laws and annual financial audits by the state may not be over yet despite the decision by the General Assembly’s Government, Administration and Elections Committee to kill legislation forcing greater transparency upon the university’s private fundraising arm.

The foundation is exempt from FOI laws, and as such is not required to disclose financial information.

But Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, told The Bulletin’s editorial board Monday that an amendment requiring disclosure of the foundation’s expenditures and fundraising activities will be offered before the session ends in two months.

Attaching an amendment to another bill is a more difficult path but it is a route well worth taking. The foundation receives $8 million a year from the university for “operating expenses” while at the same time its fundraising efforts last year alone totaled more than $81 million – with very little accountability for how that money is spent.

There have been a number of controversial expenditures that raise serious and legitimate questions, such as the foundation’s decision to fund $300,000 of UConn President Susan Herbst’s 20 percent salary increase on top of spending $660,000 a year ago to buy her a second residence off campus. The foundation also paid for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s trips to Switzerland and China to attend economic summits and paid more than $250,000 to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s as a speaking fee for an appearance on campus.

Recently Herbst broke off relations with the UConn Alumni Association, transferring those functions to the foundation – along with the association’s $9 million in assets.

Fasano said the amendment is focused only on the expenditures and fundraising. It will not require identifying donors. He is correct in saying that identifying donors is not necessary to provide greater transparency of the foundation’s activities.

A lot of money is changing hands with very little accountability. That needs to change.