KANSAS — What had been almost a year-long battle for public records from the University of Kansas’ nonprofit foundation drew to a close last month. But the fight for access to records to track donor influence is continuing on at several colleges across the country.
In a three-way settlement on Aug. 21, the KU Center for Applied Economics Director Arthur Hall, the university and student Schuyler Kraus agreed to a limited release of records related to the center’s relationship with the Koch Foundation.
In the spring edition of the SPLC’s Report magazine, staff writer Katherine Schaeffer reported on student-led movements like UnKoch My Campus that have popped up to expose the secrecy of some university nonprofit foundations that some say can lead to abuse and undue donor influence. Whether an institution’s foundation is subject to public records laws varies within and between states.
Kraus sought documents from the university exposing the relationship between the center and conservative political donors Charles and David Koch. KU intended to comply with the request, but Hall sued the school to stop the release of the records.
The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Hall objected to the breadth of the request. The records KU was originally willing to hand over included correspondence he considered personal.
The records released as part of the agreement were primarily correspondence between Hall and the Koch Foundation, but also included an agreement in 2004 between KU and the foundation providing start-up money for the center.
“This small subset matches much more closely with what I would perceive to be public records, as opposed to my private correspondence,” Hall said to the Lawrence Journal-World.
The correspondence in the records ranged from 2007 to 2013. Hall updated the foundation on the status of grants and requested additional grant money over the years.
The money covered payroll for the center (Hall was the only employee). According to the Journal-World, Hall’s 2016 salary was $111,000, which includes both his teaching salary from the university and what he made at the center. The grants also funded the Kansas Economic Reform Initiative and research into county-to-county population and income migration.
The records establish a monetary relationship between the center and the foundation, but Hall was already known to be associated with the foundation. He previously worked as an economist for Koch Industries.