One of the most shadowy areas of North Dakota government is higher education’s relationship with its multitude of spin-off foundations and corporations. Those organizations – in this instance the NDSU Development Foundation – handle significant amounts of revenues on behalf of the university, but attempts by the public to look into the books of these organizations are usually rebuffed by claims that they are not public entities.
Rather, we are told, they are separate and private entities. Something that’s hard to believe given that these entities are founded in no small part by public entities to serve public entities.
After reading an article last year about the amount of time and money NDSU President Dean Bresciani spends fundraising for the NDSU Development Foundation – according to Forum reporter Kyle Potter, Bresciani spends just a third of his time on administration for the university and the rest doing things like ushering VIP’s to big-ticket concerts and sporting events – I decided I wanted to see where all this money Bresciani was raising was going.
NDSU is a school with hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance, including research labs without running water or reliable electricity. It would be nice to know where the money is going.
But when I requested a look at the expenditures by the foundation, I was told it wasn’t public record because the Development Foundation isn’t a public entity(the university did provide me with specifics about reimbursements for Bresciani). So I filed a complaint witih the AG’s office, because I think the NDSU Development Foundation is a public entity, and I think when a public official like Bresciani spends 66 percent of his time fundraising, where that money goes and how it is used should be a public record.
The AG’s office agreed with me.
You can read the full opinion below.
I should note that I’ve been fighting this battle with NDSU for the better part of a year. I filed my original request for information in December of last year. In May the NDSU Development Foundation, sensing that they were likely to lose this fight, sent their legal counsel Christopher McShane after to try and bully me into accepting some records and canceling my request for an opinion.
“It was not until May 22, 2014, five months after Mr. Port’s initial request, and only after numerous interventions from this office, that the NDSU Development Foundation produced any sort of expenditure records to the requester,” the opinion states. “The NDSU Development Foundation spent more time trying to avoid the open records request than determining how to fulfill the request and, instead of working with its requestor, continually denied the request on incorrect legal grounds.”
Well, too bad. It’s now on the record that foundations like the NDSU Development Foundation have to open their books, and I think scrutiny of how those funds are spent is going to raise some eyebrows.
After 217 days of waiting, I look forward to the NDSU Development Foundation turning over the records.