Colorado gov. proposes legislation to force open CU Foundation books

COLORADO In the wake of two lawsuits and a grand jury investigation involving the fundraising arm of the University of Colorado, state officials are accusing the University of Colorado Foundation of having an “anonymous nature” – and, the officials say, they are ready to do something about it.

Governor Bill Owens said in November that he is looking into enacting legislation that would force the University of Colorado Foundation to open its records to the public. The foundation has long contended that it is a private entity and not subject to state open-records laws.

“Since the foundation, in practice, operates as an arm of the university, requiring some degree of public accountability seems appropriate,” the governor said.

The foundation raises about $75 million annually for the university, according to University Budget Director Rob Kohrman. The university pays the foundation $8 million a year for these services.

The foundation sued the Boulder Daily Camera in September after the newspaper issued several open-records requests, each denied by the foundation. The newspaper then sent the foundation a letter saying it would sue for access to the requested documents if necessary. The foundation responded by filing the lawsuit, which asks a judge to rule that it is not subject to the state open-records law.

The newspaper had requested documents regarding the university’s football program, which had garnered controversy in 2003, when it was revealed that drugs, alcohol and sex are routinely part of the recruitment process. A grand jury is investigating the recruitment scandal and so far has indicted a program assistant and issued a report critical of the university.

The foundation has allowed a state auditor to review its spending on university athletics and football camps, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

In the past 10 years, the foundation has raised approximately $43 million for the University of Colorado’s athletic department, said foundation spokesman Pete Webb.

Sean Duffy, a spokesman for the governor, said Owens has for months been considering some type of legislation forcing the foundation to open its books.

“There have been a number of questions about the interplay between the foundation, the university and the athletic department,” Duffy said. “We obviously have been hopeful of full and open disclosure, given the number of charges and countercharges and accusations that have been leveled. The governor’s view was that this was important that the books be transparent.”

The foundation maintains that it already operates as transparently as necessary.

“We’d be happy to show the governor how open the foundation already is,” said Heather Halpape, a foundation spokeswoman. Halpape said the foundation offers annual reports, audited financial records and summaries of its investment activities on its Web site. “A lot of the stuff that people are inquiring about is readily available on the Web site, and we’d be happy to show the governor that information.”

However, Halpape said, keeping some records private is crucial to keeping the university funded.

“The CU Foundation is critical to supporting CU beyond the realm of state funding,” she said. “It is a private organization. It has to balance that role with its donors’ desires for respectful anonymity.”

Duffy said the governor’s office is consulting with state lawmakers about the legislation and has not begun drafting the measure. The primary goal of the legislation would be ensuring transparency in the records “without in any way discouraging potential donors,” Duffy said.

The E.W. Scripps Co., which owns the Daily Camera, has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the foundation, said David Giles, the newspaper’s attorney. That lawsuit was filed in Denver County. The paper then filed a lawsuit against the foundation, alleging violations of the Colorado Open Records Act, on Oct. 29 in Boulder County.

Duffy said the governor expects that legislation requiring the foundation to operate publicly would be desirable among Colorado residents and other state officials, given the “daily drumbeat of stories” since the recruitment scandal broke.

“We’re very concerned that the sensational publicity about the athletic department tends to overshadow a lot of very positive, worldclass activities going on at the University of Colorado,” Duffy said. “Anything that puts this behind the state will be popular with its residents and its taxpayers.”