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Lawmaker wants Edison Foundation spending made public

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Lawmaker wants Edison Foundation spending made public

By Matt Grant. CREATED Nov 11, 2012

FORT MYERS - A Fox 4 investigation is prompting one state lawmaker to take action.

In a move to make Edison State College more transparent with its spending, Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) is looking into changing a state law that would require Edison State College's Foundation to publicly disclose how private donations are spent at public institutions.

"The majority of donors feel like the expenses ought to be public record," said Caldwell. "And that's going to be a big part of the discussion we have in the spring time."

The Edison Foundation is the fundraising arm of the college. By law, the Foundation can spend donations in secret. That's because private donations are considered confidential and exempt from public disclosure under Florida law.

"It's all about transparency," said Dr. David Klein, a former trustee and longtime donor to the college.

Klein's family has donated more than $250,000 to the college. It was money Klein thought went exclusively towards scholarships.

But a Fox 4 investigation discovered unspecified donations helped buy a $60,000 Cadillac Escalade for former president Dr. Ken Walker, who was fired this year, along with sit-down dinners for the presidential candidates and board of trustees in June.

"There is a fiduciary responsibility to use this money in the most useful manner," said Klein. "That is to say to help people get their degrees."

Klein wants to know if donor dollars were spent on dinners, and a Cadillac, what else is it being spent on?

"Current statutes allow the Foundation to respect and protect [donors'] wish for privacy," said college spokeswoman Teresa Morgenstern.

But Klein points out the college releases a book every year with donor names and the starting level of money that was donated.

"The names are there," said Klein. "People can see who donated."

Caldwell began looking into the issue in September after Fox 4 showed him an interview with Klein calling for the books to be open.

Caldwell recently met with Edison faculty and president Dr. Jeffrey Allbritten.

"He's not looking for anything to be hidden or kept away," said Caldwell, referring to his meeting with Allbritten.

So does that mean Allbritten is on board with opening the Foundation's books?

"I think he's going to leave it up to the legislature," said Caldwell. "I don't think he's going to actively oppose us."

If the law is changed, every public college in Florida would have to disclose how private donations are spent.

Caldwell favors changing the law so taxpayers and donors can decide if the schools are spending the money wisely.

The college did not return calls for comment.

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com