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