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UW-Oshkosh Foundation scandal prompts changes for nonprofits

April 7, 2018

OSHKOSH, Wis. (AP) — The financial troubles that have landed the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Foundation in Chapter 11 bankruptcy are leading to changes at similar nonprofit foundations associated with UW campuses.

The Legislative Audit Bureau has recommended more stringent accountability rules for the organizations, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. University campuses should have chancellors file annual financial statements and foundation reports should be independently reviewed by certified public accountants, officials said.

The changes are meant to increase transparency, said UW System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis.

Legislation may be needed to ensure transparency and separation as to how money is used and where it comes from, said state Sen. Robert Cowles, a Republican who co-chairs the Legislature’s Audit Committee. The UW System is working to establish clear rules for the foundations, he said.

“They’ve started a policy to create that separation and they’re in the midst of it,” Cowles said.

Wisconsin’s public university foundations are nonprofit organizations that are primarily funded through private donations and investments.

The UW-Oshkosh Foundation is $14.5 million in debt following five development deals that included an alumni welcome center, a sports complex, a hotel and two bio-digesters that turn farm waste into energy. The UW system has declined to fill the budget hole. Two former officials are facing civil lawsuits for alleged improper financial transactions.

“The situation looks bad for Oshkosh,” Cowles said. “They were trying to grow and they were trying to do innovative things. However, they were using taxpayer money and student money, and they didn’t necessarily have the authority to do that. So, now you’ve got litigation.”

Both sides expect the case will eventually end up before the state Supreme Court.

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Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, http://www.wpr.org

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