The New Mexico Court of Appeals has affirmed that records generated by the University of New Mexico Foundation and its athletic booster clubs are subject to public inspection under the state’s transparency law.
The April 21 court ruling states there are no overarching exemptions to the inspection of public records for private organizations affiliated with public universities.
In 2016-17, sports journalist Daniel Libit sought information regarding the naming rights to a university sports facility. He filed Inspection of Public Records Act requests to the foundation after the University of New Mexico claimed to not be in possession of the records. The defendants contended that they could conceal public records under a provision of the New Mexico Public Finances Act.
In 2018, The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, in collaboration with The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, filed an amicus brief. It argued that public university foundations are subject to state transparency laws and that obscuring records is a disservice to the public interest. The brief calls university-affiliated organizations shell corporations, in which university “arm” entities collect donations and disperse the funds but withhold these records from the public.
Libit filed a second lawsuit against the Lobo Club, seeking records related to a former athletics director who resigned from UNM and was indicted in 2019 for embezzlement and other felonies for allegedly using UNM funds to pay for non-students to play golf in Scotland. The ex-director is scheduled for trial in October in 2nd Judicial District Court, the Albuquerque Journal reports.
In January 2020, the university agreed to settle the Libit lawsuit for $27,000, plus cover his $18,000 in legal fees, “ … in addition to whatever it paid its own outside lawyers in the case — to do what the university very clearly should have done from the beginning,” Libit wrote in a blog post. “I filed this lawsuit, in part, because UNM, having surely absorbed some transparency lessons over the course of the last three years, has gotten decidedly worse in other respects. That’s something you, the New Mexico taxpayer, should continue to care about. After all, you’re the one who’s really paying for all of this,” Libit said.
You can read the full case here: https://casetext.com/case/libit-v-univ-of-nm-lobo-club
Read the The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information Amicus Brief here: https://brechner.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Libit-UNM-Foundation-amicus-brief-March-2018.pdf