Court ruling subjects Ky. university foundations to state sunshine laws

The state’s highest court has decided not to hear anappeal by the University of Louisville Foundation of two lower court rulingsthat found the private foundation must abide by the state’s freedom ofinformation laws.

By refusing to hear the case on May 12, the KentuckySupreme Court resolved a three-year-long legal battle over whether the stateOpen Records and Open Meetings Act applies to the private fund-raising arm ofthe public university.

The foundation, which receives and investsmillions of dollars in donations to the university, has argued that privacyconcerns protect university investments and allows the foundation to shielddonors’ identities.

But the Louisville Courier-Journal, whichfiled the lawsuit, has argued that because the foundation is so closely tied tothe university, the public has a right to know how the foundation uses itsmoney, who donates money and what conditions donors place on theirgifts.

“The big deal and the monumental victory is the declaration by thecourts of the commonwealth that the University of Louisville Foundation is apublic agency and all of its records are accessible to the public unless theyfall within one of the narrow exemptions of the open-records act,” Kenyon Meyer,a lawyer for the Courier-Journal, told the newspaper.

Two issuesare left unresolved. A state district court is expected to determine under whatconditions the identities of corporate and foundation donors can be made public.A state appeals court is reviewing a lower court’s ruling that the foundationmust disclose the identities of all donors except 62 who requestedanonymity.

SPLC View: Access to information about public universityfoundations has been a hot issue for years. Where it has been addressed, mostcourts – like those in Kentucky – have ruled that the extremely close tiesbetween a university and its “private” foundation require public accountabilityunder a state’s freedom of information laws. For more information, see ourpacket, “Access to University Foundation Records,” available from theSPLC.