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No legislation to make college donation spending transparent

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No legislation to make college donation spending transparent

By Matt Grant. CREATED May 3, 2013

FORT MYERS - Broken promise? After a Fox 4 investigation discovered your donation dollars paid for former Edison president Ken Walker's Cadillac Escalade, one state lawmaker promised to push for more transparency on how college's spend money.

With the legislation session over, Fox 4 confirmed no bills were introduced by Sen. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), or anyone else, that would increase transparency in the way colleges are spending your donated money.

Ornate tiles, fancy meals and a Cadillac Escalade. All were paid for with your donations and all of it done in secret.

"Did you have any idea when you said use it for the 'area of greatest need' that your money would be going towards some of these things?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"No," said longtime donor Dr. David Klein. "I imagined it was just for scholarships...That would make me hesitant to want to donate any more money."

Klein has donated more than $250,000 to the Edison Foundation, a private fund which collects money for scholarships and financial aid for Edison students. Its mission is to "advance the education and welfare of the institution."

But a Fox 4 investigation discovered donors, like Klein, that said they wanted their money to go towards the "area of greatest need" paid for Walker's $60,000 Cadillac.

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

Last year, Caldwell said he would look at changing Florida law which allows colleges to keep how donations are spent secret. With the session over, Fox 4 found Caldwell didn't introduce any legislation related to this.

A House spokesman confirms no one else did either.
 
"If it's being spent we need to know where it's going," said former Edison Trustee Pamella Seay.

Seay is disappointed legislation wasn't introduced that would allow you to see how colleges are spending your donations.

"This is money that should be going towards educational purposes," said Seay. "Not for the benefit of those who run the institution."

Seay says your donations, which could have gone towards scholarships, instead also paid for ornate floor tiles in Edison's library. There are stone fishes, frogs and lily pads.

It's supposed to look like a pond but to Seay it looks like a waste.

"If you're not focusing first on your mission, making sure that you have all the equipment and materials that you need," said Seay, "that maybe you should rethink your priorities."

Rep. Caldwell found time in his busy schedule to tell Fox 4 Friday that there "wasn't any real appetite to totally overhaul foundations law in Florida this session."

Caldwell says other issues took priority and says "maybe next year" he will bring it up.

The college says they will "continue to comply with all the laws and rules of the state," according to Edison spokeswoman Teresa Morgenstern.

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com