Data on donors who give to public institutions in New Mexico, such as public colleges and universities, will become public information if House Bill 29 passes. The legislation has the support of New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas House Bill 29 comes after the University of New Mexico Foundation initially refused to release documents requested by an independent watchdog and was then sued under the Inspection of Public Records Act. While it raises money for the school, the foundation also gets operating funds from the university.
A judge last year ordered the foundation to release documents but it has refused pending appeal of the order.
House Bill 29 mandates that organizations that exist only to provide money or property to a public agency are subject to the state Inspection of Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act.
The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Abbas Akhil (D-Albuquerque). “Recent events have demonstrated the perils of opaque foundations enmeshed with public institutions,” Akhil told the Albuquerque Journal. “It is critical that foundations that exist solely to serve the interests of public institutions meet the basic minimum standards of transparency and openness. This bill will take steps to prevent future financial negligence like what occurred at UNM Athletics.”
In an opinion piece in the Albuquerque Journal, Laurie Moye, chair of the UNM Foundation’s board and Michelle Coons, immediate past chair, wrote to oppose the legislation because the impact of the legislation is far deeper.
They wrote to oppose the bill “because it fails to consider the privacy rights of nonprofit donors and employees,” and because they believe it will have unintended negative consequences throughout New Mexico.
“Everyone who donates to nonprofit organizations that support state or municipal institutions – including public colleges, universities, museums and libraries, just to name a few – should also be concerned about House Bill 29 and its resulting erosion of personal privacy. Every donor should ask: “If this bill passes, does it mean anyone can ask for my information including my address, phone, email, giving history, gift amounts and other information? Who can request information about the nonprofits I support?,” they wrote.
They argued that the transparency doesn’t stop at donors. “What about employees of these nonprofits? Under House Bill 29, can anyone demand an employee’s address, contact information or salary? What if an employee is in a domestic abuse situation? Does this bill allow the abuser to request information and find their spouse? Can a disgruntled former employee ask someone to request records on the person who fired him or her so he or she can confront that employee at their home? Will employees become targets and be harassed or trolled for insider information?”
The bill is in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. The next step is for it to be approved by the committee and both houses of the state legislature.