Des Moines Register 02/21/06 Bills allow anonymity for donors By JONATHAN ROOS REGISTER STAFF WRITER State university foundations would be authorized to keep secret the identities of donors requesting anonymity, as well as information about the donors' finances, under a proposed set of exceptions to the state's public records law. Legislation in the House and Senate would bar public viewing of records that disclose information about a donor's personal, financial, estate planning or gift planning matters. Portions of records that reveal the identities of donors or prospective donors who have requested anonymity would also be closed to public inspection. Other confidentiality provisions in Senate Study Bill 3155 and House Study Bill 687 would apply to information about prospective donors. The legislation comes after an Iowa Supreme Court ruling last year requiring university foundations to open their records to the public. A lawsuit was brought against the Iowa State University Foundation after Marie Powers, who died in 1995, left her 240-acre farm near Duncombe to the Iowa State University Agricultural Foundation in her will. Powers asked that the land be preserved in memory of her late husband. The farm was sold and some of the $1.2 million in proceeds and cash was spent on campus projects. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the ISU Foundation must open its financial records to the public because it does government work covered by the state's open records law. Chuck Kierscht, chairman of the board and interim president of the University of Iowa Foundation, said the legislation is not an attempt to undermine the court's ruling but rather a narrow form of protection for records that donors expect to be kept confidential. "We are in no way trying to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court decision," he said. Foundation business records, including how gift money is spent, would continue to be available to the public. Critics contend the proposals would remove too many records from public viewing. "It's so broad that it would keep quite a bit of information confidential," said Randall Wilson, legal director of the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Mark Gannon, an Ames resident who was involved in bringing the lawsuit against the ISU Foundation, said he didn't object to keeping donors' personal information out of view, as long as the money can be tracked. "If there is personal information, they should segregate it and leave the rest of the information intact" for public examination, Gannon said. The legislation, which would also apply to foundations that support public libraries and government-owned hospitals, faces an uncertain future. Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Cedar Falls Democrat, said he favors allowing confidentiality of individual donors, but if donors attach conditions to their gifts, the public should know about the restrictions. "There are humble, wealthy Iowans who would be willing to (make donations) if they can have some confidentiality. Not everyone wants to broadcast to the world that they have given," he said. Kierscht, the U of I Foundation leader, warned that without the secrecy protections, the state universities' efforts to court donors could be put at a competitive disadvantage with private institutions or other states that have "donor-privacy" laws.