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Virginia Supreme Court Rules Against Transparent GMU

Right-wing Virginia Supreme Court rules Court rules that GMU's fundraising foundation is exempt from public-records laws

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Just a reminder, from UnKoch My Campus, how we shouldn’t trust the right-wing-dominated Virginia Supreme Court with anything, let alone drawing Virginia’s district lines for the next decade.

VA SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST TRANSPARENT GMU

Court rules that George Mason University’s fundraising foundation is exempt from public-records laws

Fairfax, VA: The Supreme Court of Virginia released a unanimous ruling today stating that private foundations, no matter how closely connected with the university they serve, are not public bodies for the purposes of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.

In April of 2018, student group Transparent GMU sued the GMU Foundation to release donor-related documents. Despite George Mason being a public university, donor agreements with the Koch Foundation have been kept from students, faculty, and Virginia taxpayers. The donations are funneled through GMU’s private foundation, which they have claimed is not subject to open records laws. The judge in the initial case ruled against the students at the district level, and they immediately filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia. Today, the Supreme Court of VA upheld the original decision.

“Had the General Assembly intended the unreserved inclusion of non-profit foundations, that exist for the primary purpose of supporting public institutions of higher education, as public bodies under VFOIA, it could have so provided, but it has not,” they wrote.

“Not only is the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling a barrier to transparency and accountability, but it serves to maintain strategies of the wealthy elite to further corrupt fundamental tenets of democracy,” said Jasmine Banks, Executive Director of UnKoch My Campus. “Thankfully our organizers are resilient and have other strategies they are dedicated to pursuing to ensure our democracy is protected.”

The organizing by students and faculty at George Mason University did result in the proposal of legislation that would create rules for disclosing conditions of university donations. The legislation is currently being studied by the state’s Freedom of Information Act Committee. Last month, Transparent GMU also launched a new campaign calling on George Mason University to officially remove Koch-funded research centers, including the Mercatus Center, the Institute for Humane Studies, and the Law and Economics Center, from its campus.

“Removing a think-tank’s ability to brand itself alongside an academic institution can effectively remove the public impact of the initial tainted donation,” said Samantha Parsons, Campaigns Director of UnKoch My Campus. “Where the Virginia Supreme Court fails in protecting our communities, our students will step up.”

Read UnKoch My Campus’s full statement on our website.