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ASU Foundation denies contribution was used for campaigns

The ASU Foundation said it donated money to promote higher education, not political campaigns.

ASU Fulton Center
The entrance to the ASU foundation building located at the Fulton Center in Tempe on March 30, 2015. The ASU Foundation has been outed for supplying money to lobbying groups, in particular APS. (Daniel Kwon | The State Press)

The ASU Foundation came under fire earlier this month after IRS records showed the organization donated money to Save Our Future Now, a group that contributed money in the Arizona Corporation Commission election, backing candidates whose platforms were openly against solar power.

It is important to know ASU and the ASU Foundation are not the same organization. The ASU Foundation is a separate, tax-exempt nonprofit organization, ASU spokesman Mark Johnson said.

ASU Foundation officials said the connection between the foundation’s donation and Save Our Future Now’s campaign contributions are unrelated.

“In 2013, the ASU Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization, provided a contribution to Save Our Future Now, a 501(c)(4) organization which, as part of its social welfare mission, helps generate public awareness of higher education issues and advances higher education in the state of Arizona,” John Skinner, the vice president and chief of staff of the ASU Foundation, said in an email.

The issue was brought to light when the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit government accountability program, wrote that the only donation made by the foundation that was not related to a scholarship or a college was directed to Save Our Future Now.

The article, written by the Sunlight Foundation’s Jacob Fenton, also indicated the ASU Foundation had received money from Arizona Public Service Co., another organization active in the Corporation Commission election.

“There is no connection whatsoever between the ASU Foundation’s contribution to Save Our Future Now and APS, nor did anyone from the ASU Foundation speak to any current or former APS employees about our contribution,” Skinner said.

Skinner said the money received from APS was also not connected to any financial campaigns and did not come with any conditions.

“The APS Foundation is one of many organizations that have made contributions to the ASU Foundation in direct support of ASU’s students and research initiatives,” Skinner said. “APS Foundation gifts have all been restricted gifts, and none have been directed to support Save Our Future Now.”

Skinner said the foundation also took steps to distance itself from political involvement within the donation to Save Our Future Now.

“The ASU Foundation specifically and clearly restricted the contribution to only educational advocacy purposes,” Skinner said. “In fact, we specified it could not be used for any lobbying or campaign electioneering of any sort.”

Skinner said the idea that ASU would contribute to a campaign that is anti-solar power is “absurd and defies logic.” He also highlighted ASU’s work to incorporate solar power into its operations.

Skinner said the contribution was posted publicly, and nothing was done to take advantage of donors or campaign.

“Part of our mission is to promote ASU and higher education, and we are constantly looking for ways to better inform Arizonans and others of the value and impact of higher education,” Skinner said.

According to the ASU 2014 annual report, the ASU Foundation received nearly $150 million from donors. The foundation donated $100,000 to Save Our Future Now.

Skinner said some donors expressed concern after the Sunlight Foundation wrote its report, but said the Foundation has been able to clear up any questions.

“We have had a few people — less than a dozen out of almost 100,000 donors this past year — ask us questions about the misleading reporting, but we’ve been able to share the facts with them and assure them of our strict commitment to advancing the University, which includes the advancement of renewable energy sources,” Skinner said.

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