Editorial: Sneak attack on open records law should be rebuffed

March 21, 2004

Everybody understands that in a nation at war certain types of information that might be used by terrorists to do grievous harm to the public must be safeguarded.

For that reason, the Kentucky Press Association, working with House Bill 188's sponsor early in the session, accepted language that seals some things normally in the public record. In the interest of security, some types of information currently covered by the state open's access laws would be protected. Those changes are included in the bill, which deals with homeland security issues and exemptions to the state's open records act.

Now, some legislators plan to use the cover of homeland security to place totally unrelated information off-limits to the public. That's what an amendment to HB 188 to be proposed Monday in the state Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee would do.

The amendment would create exemptions to the opens records act that would guard the secrecy of non-profit organizations holding funds for state government or state universities. That means that the source and use of funds donated to such organizations as university athletic associations or university foundations would be removed from public scrutiny.


This comes despite court rulings that the University of Louisville Foundation and the Kentucky State University Foundation are public agencies, as defined by the Kentucky Opens Records Act, and are therefore subject to public scrutiny. The amendment being proposed Monday appears to be an effort to do by legislation what university officials trying to keep these records secret have been unable to achieve by litigation.

Certainly, this effort to gut the state's open access laws is related to the simmering controversy over the U of L Foundation and its relationship with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. But as state universities and other state agencies increasingly turn to private donors for funding, the issue goes beyond McConnell.

As a result of the "Brains for Bucks" program, millions in taxpayer dollars are being held by foundations at state universities. Kentucky taxpayers have a right to know whether these funds are being invested and spent wisely.

Furthermore, universities have used foundations to hide certain operations, such as sports spending, from public view.

In fact, the proposed amendment is broad enough that it could exempt from public view the activities of any nonprofit entity that operates "for the benefit of any state organization." Theoretically, if public officials so desired, it could put many state government operations under a blanket of secrecy that would do nothing to make Kentuckians safer from terrorists but would do much to keep Kentucky's elected and appointed officials safer from the scrutiny of the voters and the taxpayers.

The amendment is a sneak attack on the public's right to know and ought to be rebuffed by the Senate panel Monday.

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