Judge orders Ky. university foundation to release corporate donor records

KENTUCKY — The University of Louisville Foundation has been ordered by a state circuit court to release the names of all corporate and foundation donors, putting to rest unanswered questions from a previous ruling that declared the foundation a public agency that is subject to state open-record laws. The foundation is the fundraising arm of the University of Louisville, a public university.

The ruling, issued by the Jefferson County Circuit Court on Nov. 24, said that the identity of the 75 corporate and foundation donors to the university foundation should be released. The foundation argued that the donors had requested to remain anonymous, and therefore have a right to privacy.

In a written court opinion, Judge Steve Mershon said that the public’s right to know outweighed any right the corporate and private foundations had to personal privacy.

The issue first arose in May 2001 when a Louisville newspaper, The Courier Journal, filed suit against the foundation for access to the identities of donors, which had been kept secret. The Journal also requested the amounts of funds contributed to the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center for Political Leadership.

The Journal successfully argued in April 2002 that the foundation was a public institution because of its ties to the University of Louisville. After its defeat, the foundation contended in an appeal that releasing the identities of corporate donors, who requested anonymity, would constitute an invasion of privacy, which would allow an exemption under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

“We are disappointed by the ruling,” said Michael Risley, attorney for the University of Louisville. “We still are deciding whether we want to appeal the decision related to the corporate donors.”

Though the foundation is still weighing its options involving the corporate donors, lawyers for the Journal say it has technically been granted everything it requested.

“We were not surprised [by the ruling], but we were very pleased,” said Jon Fleischaker, a lawyer for the paper.

The case also spun off a separate issue as to whether the names of the 45,000 individual donors should be released. Individual donors are those that are not affiliated with a company or organization.

Fleischaker said that besides a possible appeal, the only unresolved issue is the release of the names of the individual donors. A previous court ruling ordered the release of the names of the individual donors who did not request to remain anonymous. An appeal in that case is currently in the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Fleischaker said he expects that a ruling in that case will be reached within the next two to three months.

Read previous coverage:

  • Ky. high court declines to hear appeal from university foundation over privacy News Flash, 5/17/2004
  • Court orders Ky. university foundation to release donor names News Flash, 9/25/2003