From UnKoch My Campus “a nonprofit organization working to increase transparency on campus and fighting attempts by corporate donors like the Koch brothers from influencing education. Our network includes grassroots campaigns made up of students, faculty, alumni and community members who have seen firsthand the undue influence Koch money has on campus, in the form of undisclosed, quid-pro-quo arrangements that give them a say on curriculum, hiring decisions and research outcomes.”
VA Governor Signs Two Bills Promoting Donor Transparency On College Campuses
VIRGINIA: Last week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed two bills relating to transparency of donor agreements. HB 1529 makes universities retain copies of donor agreements from university foundations so that they can be accessible for public view under the Freedom of Information Act. HB 510 does not allow donor names to be anonymous when they have academic strings attached to their donation. These bills are wins for donor transparency on campus and their implementation will help protect public universities from “pay to play” dark money donations that come with harmful conditions that violate academic freedom.
Both bills were introduced in the House of Delegates by Delegate David Bulova. He represents House district 37, which includes George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus.
Student group Transparent GMU has been pushing for donor transparency since it sued the GMU Foundation to release donor-related documents in 2018. Despite George Mason being a public university, donor agreements with the Koch Foundation had been kept from students, faculty, and Virginia taxpayers. The donations are funneled through GMU’s private fundraising foundation, which claims it 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. This past December, the Supreme Court of VA upheld the original decision.
Despite the disappointing ruling, the organizing by students and faculty at George Mason University did result in the proposal of these bills, which have now been signed into law by Governor Northam.
“These bills are products of over six years of strategic organizing by students, faculty, and community advocates across Virginia,” said Samantha Parsons, Campaigns Director of UnKoch My Campus. “The moment students were handed a disappointing court ruling, they rallied, turned their energy towards the legislature, and won.”
Unfortunately, these new laws still do not make old agreements between the GMU Foundation and private donors open to the public. Campaigns at George Mason University to expand transparency and address the legacies of decades of donor influence still continue.