Despite protests from open government advocates, a House of Delegates subcommittee on Thursday endorsed a bill that would allow the University of Virginia to withhold the identities of financial donors who demand anonymity.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Glenn Oder, R-Newport News, aims to exempt the bulk of UVa’s massive donor database from Virginia’s open records law.
UVa’s database includes personal information - including net worth, marital status and Social Security numbers - for more than 450,000 potential donors. Fundraising officials at the university rely on the database as part of UVa’s quest to collect $3 billion.
“We want to remain as transparent as possible, but we also have a responsibility to our donors to protect certain personal information that should be kept private,” said UVa spokeswoman Carol Wood.
The Freedom of Information Act subcommittee of the House Committee on General Laws approved the bill in a 3-2 vote with no public testimony or debate Thursday. The bill had been postponed a week earlier over concerns about conflicts of interest that might arise at UVa from anonymous donations.
Open government advocates do not object to the bill’s goal of shielding highly personal information from the Freedom of Information Act. However, they do take issue with a provision of the bill that would allow UVa to hide the identities of any donors who want to stay anonymous.
“It’s very unfortunate that the committee decided to close these records,” said Jennifer Perkins, executive director of the Coalition for Open Government. “If the bill goes forward, the public would have no way of knowing if someone is trying to buy their son’s or daughter’s way into the university.”