Foundations that support public colleges and universities may soon have to disclose their contributions and expenditures if a bill is passed in the state legislature.
House Bill 1041 would make organizations such as the CSU Foundation reveal where the donated money they receive is being spent. The bill would bring the higher education expenditures into the Colorado Open Records Act, said Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, who is sponsoring the bill in the state Senate.
The CSU Foundation is a nonprofit organization that manages charitable contributions to the university.
"If this bill is passed there will be able to be public accountability and it will prevent questionable expenditures by higher education foundations in the future," Tupa said.
The bill states that the financial records shall not include any names or identifiable information of people who donate to their respective foundations.
"This is a good idea because it will help reinstall public confidence in universities and colleges," Tupa said.
The bill is still being debated in the senate.
People would know how money is being spent and what is going if this bill succeeds, said Rep. Matt Knoedler, R-Lakewood, who sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives, where it has already passed.
The bill has received a lot of media and political attention lately because the CU Foundation, which donates money to the University of Colorado-Boulder, was put into question after a grand jury stated that "slush funds" were created to pay football coaches and pay for their country-club fees.
"I do not want to be perceived as one of these legislators that is taking it to CU but a lot of questions have been raised lately and there needs to be support for transparency," said Knoedler, who is a CU alum.
Tupa originally introduced the same legislation in 2000.
"The recent publicity has certainly brought the issue to the attention of legislators," Tupa said. "I've been interested in this issue for years and if the same legislation passed 5 years ago it would have prevented all that is going on now."
The Colorado Press Association is sponsoring the bill as well.
It is important for people to see how a foundation decides to spend its money, said Ed Otte, executive director of the press association.
"We support this because we see it as a public-access issue," Otte said. "It is also interesting that people think the bill is aimed at only the CU Foundation, which is not true; it will affect all higher education foundations."
The CSU Foundation supports the proposal and is working with legislators while the bill is moving through the legislative process. The foundation wants to make sure the bill's language is written the way it was intended.
"We agree with the idea and understand why the legislature has certain concerns but we also feel like we have handled our operations very well," said Kathleen Henry, president and CEO of the CSU Foundation.
The CSU Foundation uses external and internal auditors to assess where money is being distributed and spent. The foundation must follow written guidelines regarding the subject.
"Our foundation has done a great job at being stewards of our donors' money and spending it in an adequate manner," Henry said. "But we certainly understand why the legislature wants to address the issue and has concerns. We will certainly work with them on this bill."
The CU Foundation has received more attention because it is the only one that is testifying at the legislative hearings, Otte said. While the CU Foundation has been in the spotlight more than its CSU counterpart, it backs the bill as well.
"We are supportive of the bill and have worked closely with the sponsors on it to get some changes we thought were needed like donor confidentiality and to make sure the language in the bill is precise," said Glenn Porzak, vice chairman of the board of directors for the CU Foundation.
One area that is still being discussed on is whether the bill would end up costing higher education foundations a lot of money to produce the documents to whoever requested them. Anyone in the general public would have the right to ask for certain records.
"The foundation is very concerned that the cost of responding to requests will have to be carved out of donor money, which will impact students and student programs," Porzak said.