Colo. foundation sues newspaper over open-records requests

COLORADO — In a move akin to a pre-emptive strike, the University of Colorado Foundation has filed suit against a Boulder newspaper after denied requests for information led the newspaper to threaten the foundation with legal action.

The suit, filed Sept. 22 against the Boulder Daily Camera, seeks clarification from a state district court that the foundation’s records are not subject to the Colorado Open Records Act. The foundation contends that because it is independent, non-public and separate from the University of Colorado, its records are not subject to public disclosure.

But the Camera said the foundation’s affiliation with the University of Colorado makes it subject to open record laws.

“[The CU foundation] interacts in a very intertwined way with the university,” said David Giles, attorney for the Daily Camera.

The Camera argues that because the foundation receives public funds from the university it must adhere to open record laws.

The Camera has made three freedom of information requests since July, all of which were denied by the foundation. The lawsuit came after the E.W. Scripps Corporation, which owns the Daily Camera, threatened the foundation with legal action if certain documents were not released, foundation officials said.

But Giles said the letter simply outlined open-record laws in Colorado and how the laws apply to the foundation. Although there may have been “subliminal messages” in the letter referring to potential legal action to enforce the laws, they were minimal, he said.

The Camera’s most recent request concerned a University of Colorado football recruitment scandal in which money was allocated to recruit prospective players. Three women claimed they were sexually assaulted during a party attended by CU players and prospective recruits; others have alleged that sex and alcohol have routinely been part of the recruitment process.

Since the incident, the foundation has refused to cooperate with investigators, and there has been growing suspicion as to where the funds came from. Giles said the Camera wants to know the foundation’s relationship with CU’s athletic department.

“We believe the public has a right to know how the foundation is allocating they money they raise,” the Camera’s publisher, Greg Anderson, told the Rocky Mountain News.

According to University Budget Director Rob Kohrman, the university pays the foundation $8 million a year for fundraising services. The CU foundation, in turn, raises $75 million annually for the university.

Foundation spokesman Pete Webb said the foundation has provided approximately $43 million to the University of Colorado’s athletic department during the past 10 years.

Despite the foundation’s release of annual investment activities and budget figures, the Daily Camera is seeking additional documents, although it declined to specify which, citing the pending lawsuit.

Typically newspapers are the first to take legal action for non-compliance with open record laws, Giles said, making the foundation’s decision to sue the newspaper somewhat unusual.

“It was unique and puzzling,” he said.