AG’s Office: Desire to Know More About UConn Foundation Not Enough for an Investigation

The UConn Foundation—a charity dedicated to the University of Connecticut—seems to many to be a shadowy and unaccountable cabal that pumps millions into UConn and its related activities. Many legislators wanted to know how much the foundation has spent and on what. But legislation attempting to make the foundation subject to the Freedom of Information Act failed. There have been subsequent calls for an investigation of the foundation by Attorney General’s office but a spokesperson says wanting more transparency is not enough to trigger a probe.

The UConn Foundation has been tossing around serious money for years. Last year it paid Hillary Clinton more than $250,000 to speak to 23-hundred students. It also subsidized a $300,000 pay raise to UConn President Susan Herbst who was also already making more than a half million dollars. Then there was the $660,000 for a house in Hartford’s west end for Herbst to entertain big shot donors.

Back in January it seems legislation to get some sunlight on the foundation’s books had strong support. But it died in an amendment in the state Senate. The measure was offered by Minority Leader Len Fasano who says public money is involved—$8 million worth.

“You’re a state institution. You’re there because of us. And you can’t tell us what you do with the money from the foundation?” Fasano asked on the Senate floor according to the Hartford Courant “Why are we paying them $8 million to begin with? That’s our money. … Who the heck would ever make an investment … and you don’t have to tell us what you’re doing with it? What’s wrong with the sunlight? Is there something you don’t want us to know?”

Some, including the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, have called on Attorney General George Jepsen to launch an investigation of the foundation. But wanting to know more about the workings of the charity is not a reason to open an investigation.

Jaclyn Falkowski, spokesperson for the AG’s office says unless there is some indication of wrongdoing, there’s not much they will do. “We can make the decision to investigate based on a variety of information, including the failure to make required filings with the Internal Revenue Service or to maintain required registration with the DCP, any complaints received from the public or any number of other sources of information that indicate a potential violation of law. Generally speaking, however, a lack of transparency beyond those disclosures that are necessitated by law is not, by itself, a reason to open an investigation into any particular public charity,” she said.

The legislators who supported the transparency bill said it was more about knowing how much is being spent and where, as tuition continues to rise and Herbst cries poor to the legislature on a yearly basis.

The Hartford Courant editorialized that FOI laws should apply to the foundation. I’m not a lawyer but it seems to me that singling out one charity for FOI scrutiny would be actionable for the charity in court.

It seems the UConn Foundation has found a nice, safe place in the shadows with the public an unable to get a look at its books.