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UW-Madison hides sports deal behind foundation: lawsuit

On-campus foundation raises, disburses money for only one client

The University of Wisconsin hides its sport sponsorship contract inside a foundation, according to a recent lawsuit.

Journalist and UW graduate Daniel Libit wants to know more about UW-Madison’s deal with Altius Sports Partners. The company provides “name, image, and likeness” services to help Badger athletes win sponsorship deals.

Altius will work “on-campus” to provide “daily support for student-athletes” in learning about NIL opportunities and “collaborating with external stakeholders to maximize student-athletes’ NIL opportunities,” according to a university news release.

But the university refused to give Libit a copy of the contract, saying its foundation holds it.

“They claim they possess no copies of the contract because the UW Foundation has it,” the Wisconsin Transparency Project wrote. “The UW Foundation, in turn, claims that it is a private organization not subject to the state’s Open Records Law.”

The Project filed a suit on Feb. 21 in a county court to force the university to turn over the records in response to Libit’s public records request. The university said the foundation is a “private entity” and its records are not “subject” to state public records law. Libit has prevailed in three other public records lawsuits against universities.

Yet it operates entirely for the benefit, and in coordination with, the public university. In fact, much like Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute, it operates on campus.

“The UW Foundation grows, manages, invests, and disburses money from the University’s endowment, which exceeds $4,500,000,000,” the lawsuit states. “Its sole purpose is to act for the benefit of the University.”

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In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the foundation sent around $250 million to the university, according to the lawsuit.

“The Foundation is the university’s development and financial partner,” the nonprofit states. A link at the university website directs donors to give to the foundation.

The state supreme court ruled a government “entity” is an organization that “resembles a governmental corporation in function, effect, or status,” in a 2008 decision.

UW Foundation meets that definition, and so do other similar entities. Universities commonly use their foundations to dodge public records law, but it’s not always successful.

Kentucky State University tried to hide details of a birthday party it threw for the school president by saying those records were held by the KSU Foundation.

“The sole purpose of the KSU Foundation is to support and advance the mission of the University,” a judge ruled, rejecting the university’s claim and ruling in favor of a newspaper that sought the records.

College of DuPage in Illinois tried, and failed, with a similar tactic as it faced scrutiny for its wild spending, including a $28,000 hunting club membership for the president.

The University of Wisconsin Foundation functions for the benefit of the university.

But the Big Ten university should remember it functions on behalf of the public – who deserves to know how deals are being made.

MORE: NC State claims open records law hurts its business partnerships

IMAGE: University of College/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.