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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Now we know

Today's Louisville Courier-Journal has this interesting story: "Foundation releases donor list."

For many years, the newspaper has been trying to find out the identities of donors to the McConnell Center for Political Leadership at the University of Louisville. As you may have guessed from the name, the Center is named for Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is a graduate of the University's Department of Political Science.

McConnell helped raise funds for the Center, which gives scholarships to undergraduates from Kentucky, brings in speakers, funds trips (including to China), etc.

Here's the issue: The University launders donations through its Foundation, argues that the Foundation is a private (not public) entity, and then says it has no legal responsibility to disclose the Foundation's business.

A court ruled that the Foundation was a public entity and thus has to disclose its donors who do not explicitly request anonymity. In short, the Kentucky Open Records Law applies to the Foundation.

Basically, some critics of these types of Centers (many other members of Congress have them too) argue that corporations and wealthy individuals can make "back door" secret campaign contributions to members of Congress by writing these checks.

Think about it. Members of Congress often funnel pork to local projects, including to universities. Campaign contributions must be disclosed. How better to fund both pork and campaigns privately and secretly?
"Very often these companies give to these foundations or charities as a way of currying favor with a senator," said Larry Noble, executive director of the group [Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based campaign finance watchdog].

"(McConnell) has a number of loyal donors and companies that support him and they'll go wherever he directs. This is a tried and true method of supporting a member of Congress," Noble said.
The University has long argued that wealthy individuals and corporations value their privacy. Otherwise, I've heard more than one person argue, they will be asked for money by everyone.

Does that pass the laugh test? Even the donors say no:
But officials of some corporations and foundations that gave to the McConnell Center said they had no desire to keep their names private.

"Toyota's never made any secret of our contribution to the McConnell program," Barbara McDaniel, a spokeswoman for Toyota Motor Manufacturing of North America, said yesterday.

The company has given $833,333 to the McConnell Center since it was created, including a $250,000 gift pledged last month.

McDaniel said the company had told UofL it was willing to publicize the gift.

Former UofL President John Shumaker had sent Toyota officials letters saying their gifts would be kept anonymous.
The names of 62 donors are still secret, as the judge ruled that individuals who specifically request privacy may have a right to it. That part of the decision is under appeal. 40 unnamed individual donors gave donations totaling $6 million.

Who were the biggest donors? Well, this group plus Toyota gave over $8.7 million of the 11.2 million raised to date (for red entries, see correction below):
Alliant Health System (Norton Healthcare), $1,020,000
Brown-Forman Corp. $425,000
David A. Jones, $1,000,000 (this is the former Humana executive)
James Graham Brown Foundation, $650,000
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, $771,767 ??????????
Mildred V. Horn Foundation, $504,500

Papa John's, $1,008,430
Philip Morris Cos. Inc., $450,000
RJR Nabisco Foundation, $500,000
The Humana Foundation Inc., $800,000
United Defense, $500,000
United Parcel Service, $400,000
The "liberal" Brookings Institution gave $400, though that isn't the smallest figure listed.

Disclosure: since some of my scholarship is on transparency, I've sometimes been interviewed by the local papers about this issue.

Correction: The newspaper put McConnnell Center donations in boldface. Nonboldfaced listings were donations to the Foundation for other purposes. A C-J reporter pointed out to me via email that the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation should not appear on my list above.

Likewise, remove Alliant, the Mildren Horn Foundation, and Papa John's. That takes away $3.2 million and the math actually works out better now.

Sorry for my error.

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