9.25_News_Koch_Courtesy of Transparent GMU

Campus Group Sues School for Koch Foundation Records

By Dana Nickel, Staff Writer

Transparent GMU began oral arguments in their lawsuit against Mason last Friday, Sept. 22 at the Fairfax County Historic Courthouse over obtaining donation records from the influential Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, a non-profit organization funded by Charles Koch of Koch Industries.

Augustus Thomson, the official plaintiff listed in the group’s lawsuit, is also a student at Mason. “I’m directly involved, but the organization voted on going forward with the lawsuit [together],” said Thomson.

Transparent GMU is a campus organization that “aims to shed light on the potential undue influence of GMU donors,” according to their official Facebook page.

“You have a right to get the information, and university foundations are subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act,” Thomson said of the organization’s message.

The George Mason University Foundation previously declined to reveal these donor documents. Transparent GMU even filed an official request for the donor records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in past attempts to obtain them.

FOIA is a law that grants the public access to important and relevant documents or data in the possession of public institutions. The denial of Transparent GMU’s requests for the donor agreements prompted the organization to file a lawsuit against both the school and the George Mason University Foundation.

The George Mason University Foundation is a non-profit foundation established “to assist the university in generating private support and to manage, invest, and administer private gifts, including endowment and real property,” according to their official website.

Because the Foundation is a non-profit corporation founded by a public university, the level to which it is subject to FOIA is unclear, and a primary question in Transparent GMU’s lawsuit.

According to Transparent GMU’s press briefing regarding the lawsuit, the Charles Koch Foundation has given George Mason University $95.5 million since 2005.

The oral arguments lasted 45 minutes before adjourning until the second round of arguments scheduled for October 20th.

Represented parties included Transparent GMU, the George Mason University Foundation, and the George Mason University administration.

All counselors declined to comment immediately following the hearing. Evan Johns, a lawyer with Appalachian Mountain Valley Associations, is representing Transparent GMU pro bono.

Fourth Estate was not able to get a comment from George Mason University by deadline.

Photo Courtesy of Transparent GMU

 

  • Bill

    Poor Augustus and his friends are so naive it’s actually sort of adorable. FOIA only applies to public institutions, which the Foundation is not. That’s why the FOIA requests were denied. Additionally, any donor has the right to remain anonymous. It’s all spelled out quite clearly in Virginia code, which anyone can access online. Maybe instead of trying to scare away donors they should spend their time studying, or raising money from liberal donors if they have a problem with the school receiving money from conservative groups. I guess chasing the Koch boogeyman is the hip thing to do these days. I mean, have you all seen this group’s Facebook page? It’s like they want to make it look “cool” or “badass” to sue your own school (which nobody forced you to attend) because you don’t like one of the donors. I suppose if nothing else this whole ordeal will be a good, expensive lesson in law for the students involved.

    • Connor Gibson

      Would the GMU Foundation exist without GMU?

      • Bill

        Did you have a point behind that question? To answer it simply, no, it would not exist in its current form without GMU. The point of the foundation is to have a medium to raise private funds for the school. That being said, the answer to that question is irrelevant to the issue at hand. The fact is, the foundation is a 501c(3) and is exempt from the same FOIA requirements as public institutions, which includes allowing donors to remain anonymous if they choose. Here: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode. Read up. If you want to change Virginia code, your best bet is to contact your state representatives. Try to see the big picture, Connor. If you squeeze off every private funding source that doesn’t match perfectly with everybody’s political views, and state funding continues its decline, you know where the only other place to get money is? That’s right… raising tuition. The problem is that there is a large group of students who will protest the donors they don’t like and then turn around and protest any tuition increases. That’s why I initially said, if you don’t like having a conservative group donating money to a school, instead of choking off funds for everyone, go find some liberal donors to balance it out. I’m sure the school will take it.

    • Nick Walker

      Great post. Would give a thousand likes if I could. Why is it so bad for the Kochs to give money to higher ed? They also donate to PBS, the United Negro College Fund, the American Museum of Natural History, the NAACP, the ACLU, the Smithsonian, many museums and arts programs, plus groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the Coalition for Public Safety, which are trying to reduce mass incarceration, not to mention K-12 schools, hospitals, environmental groups… When did it become a bad thing for rich people to donate their money? Should they have just kept it all for themselves? I guess it’s true what they say, no good deed goes unpunished.