Regent wrapped up in campaign contribution conflict of interest, Free Press reports

Thursday, September 13, 2018 - 8:30pm

According to a recent Detroit Free Press article, Board of Regents Member Andrea Fischer Newman (R) accepted close to $30,000 in campaign contributions from donors who have been connected to funds that receive investments from the University.

In a recent interview with the Free Press, Newman has committed to returning campaign contributions back to three businessmen. It is reported these donors have a large portion of control in University investments.

One of the donors is said to be businessman Stephen Ross, who has been linked with donating to Newman since 2010. This past year, Ross along with his wife donated $6,800 — the maximum quantity for donations — to Newman’s campaign.

In response, Newman released a statement earlier today in a University press release, stating all donations she received were legally disclosed.

“I love the University of Michigan and have been honored to serve its students and community,” Newman wrote. “Transparency and accountability are two of my core principles, which is why I was appalled that today’s Detroit Free Press story made such an egregious overstep in the manner in which it connected unrelated and distant events.”

According to the Free Press, Brian Galle, a Georgetown University law professor, said while the contributions may not have been directly illegal, they could still be unethical.

“Something doesn’t have to be obviously illegal for it to be the kind of thing a flagship state university should be 100 miles away from,” Galle said. “There is a stink to this arrangement, not to say that it’s illegal.”

From a separate University Record article, University leaders affirm their support for the University’s investment practices. University President Mark Schlissel responded to the Free Press story, saying Newman did nothing to question her commitment to the University and ethics.

“Regent Newman and her colleagues on the Board of Regents serve our university with integrity that is beyond reproach, guided by an unwavering commitment to Michigan,” Schlissel said. “Regent Newman has acted ethically and appropriately, and I strongly disagree with the paper's characterizations of her and others who serve the university.”

In a previous investigation, the Free Press claimed up to $4 billion out of the $11 billion University endowment is invested back to its top donors in global projects. The University also denied these claims upon publication, saying the Free Press misrepresented the nature of the Investment Advisory Committee and the endowment.