Bill would keep private donors’ IDs anonymous

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) —It may be a lame duck legislative session. But for one West Michigan community, a bill making its way through the state legislature could take away transparency of who gives what to a city’s nonprofit foundation. 

Kalamazoo city leaders are afraid that if SB 1176 becomes law, hundreds of millions of dollars could be donated to the city’s nonprofit, the Foundation for Excellence, with no way for the public to know who gives the money – or how much they give.

“We’ve received donations from several individuals and groups in the city,” said Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema.

The Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence is a multi-million-dollar endowment fund that was incorporated in August 2017. It’s technically a nonprofit organization, but the city spends the money the foundation collects. 

Opponents of the foundation were concerned donors would control how the city’s money is spent and that the foundation and the city wouldn’t be transparent about the program.

“So, ultimately, we’re going to be talking about $500 million,” Ritsema told 24 Hour News 8.

State Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, is sponsoring the bill that Ritsema says would prohibit the city from releasing the names of donors to the public. 

Ritsema and Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell sent a letter to State Sen. Margaret O’Brien and Rep. John Hoadley expressing their concerns.

“Because there was concern about, this notion of anonymous donors providing or funding a lot of money to the city, and we wanted to be upfront about that and, you know, just dismiss those concerns right up front,” said Ritsema.

“No, no, no, no,” said Shirkey during a phone interview with 24 Hour News 8. “It’s just the opposite.  They can, as long as their contributors give them permission, they can reveal and say who they are. This does not in any way affect that.”

The bill would only prohibit a state entity from requiring nonprofits from disclosing their contributors,” said Shirkey.

“(If) the entity, in this case it’s that foundation, wants to share (contributors) and they tell a donor such, this statute does not in any way prohibit this,” he said.

If the bill becomes law, Ritsema says it could be challenged in court. 

“Yeah, it’s just bad legislation,” he added.

SB 1176 passed the state Senate and is now in a House committee. No hearing has been scheduled yet. 

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