Names of individual donors to Ky. univ. foundation not public, court rules

KENTUCKY — The names of more than 45,000 donors to the University of Louisville Foundation will be kept from the public as a result of a recent state appeals court ruling.

The May 20 ruling ensures the anonymity of individual donors to the university’s fundraising arm and overturns a previous ruling by the Jefferson County Circuit Court that said all donors would be subject to public disclosure except those specifically requesting anonymity.

The decision, a victory for the foundation, came as a disappointment to the Courier-Journal, the Louisville newspaper that began battling with the university over the identities of its donors in May 2001.

The newspaper successfully argued in 2002 that the foundation’s ties to the university made it a public institution. In its appeal, the foundation argued that releasing the identities of its donors invaded their privacy.

It was this concern for the privacy of the foundation’s donors that the appeals court cited in its ruling.

“While the newspaper’s motivation may be mere curiosity, we perceive a possibly significant intrusion on the donors’ privacy should these records be held subject to disclosure,” the court said. “The privacy interests of the donors to the foundation outweigh the public interest and hold that all of the records should be held exempt from disclosure.”

Kenyon Meyer, an attorney representing the Courier-Journal, argued that the decision inhibits the press from serving as “a watchdog on government agencies.”

As a public university it is important that the identities of donors to the University of Louisville be accessible to the public, Meyer said.

“Often those who contribute money have influence, and we think not having access to contributors to the university inhibits the ability to ensure that the university is fulfilling its mission,” he explained.

University of Louisville attorney Michael Risley said the ruling would help maintain donations to the foundation.

“The concern is that there are some individual donors who will not give to foundations or to other charitable activities if their identity is disclosed, and so we believe there is merit in recognizing that individual donors should have a right to maintain their anonymity,” Risley explained.

While identities of individual donors can be kept secret, the identities of donors who waive anonymity or those already revealed remain open to the public. The identities of corporate donors also remain open as a result of a Nov. 24, 2004, Jefferson County Circuit Court ruling.

The Courier-Journal plans to appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court, Meyer said.

–By Mike Hart

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