The University of New Mexico Foundation has told the Journal it will continue to withhold information about high-profile deals involving naming rights while it appeals a state district court judge’s ruling that its records related to one of those deals are public and subject to New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act.
The Journal has, since 2016, sought to review documents related to agreements between the foundation and local businesses whose names have been put on Lobo athletics facilities amid much fanfare. UNM itself has announced the dollar amounts pledged via media releases and sometimes during celebratory events.
The foundation cites donor privacy issues in refusing to provide the records despite a recent ruling by state District Judge Nancy Franchini that as long as the foundation was conducting the business of the university, it was subject to state transparency laws and that the records sought by independent journalist Daniel Libit were public documents.
On Thursday, Tamaya Enterprises Inc. – which entered into a $1 million baseball field naming agreement on behalf of Santa Ana Star Casino – says it will allow the UNM Foundation to release both the agreement and information pertaining to the currency of its payments. Chairwoman Melissa Paquin-Leon said TEI granted that permission to the foundation via email on Thursday.
“As sponsors to UNM athletics under the UNM Foundation, our payments are up-to-date and have been made on time to UNM in the amount of $66,250 per quarter,” Paquin-Leon said in a written statement to the Journal.
UNM Foundation spokeswoman Jennifer Kemp said Friday payments on the Santa Ana agreement are up to date. However, the foundation has not released the agreement.
Explaining why the foundation would continue to withhold documents in the face of Franchini’s ruling, Kemp stated in an email to the Journal this week, “The backbone of any not-for-profit entity in America is the protection of the privacy of contributors who wish to give to causes or institutions they support without fanfare or public attention.”
Recent major naming rights deals for UNM athletics facilities have included very public announcements organized by the university, featuring university presidents, regents, coaches and even cheerleaders.
Two such events were the May 2017 celebration of Dreamstyle Remodeling’s agreement for Pit and football stadium naming rights and the December 2014 announcement on the Pit floor of a previous deal with WisePies Pizza & Salad.
The Dreamstyle event featured an oversized $1 million check to UNM, the first of the $10 million commitment, while the WisePies deal included free pizza for a pep-rally style announcement.
When TEI’s deal for baseball naming rights was announced via press releases by UNM and Dallas-based Learfield Sports, UNM’s marketing partner, former athletic director Paul Krebs said: “The beneficiary of this field naming rights is not just our baseball program but our entire community and state.”
For the July 2012 UNM announcement of the $1.5 million, seven-year deal for the naming of “Branch Field” for longtime Lobo supporters Turner and Margaret Branch, Krebs spoke of the appropriateness of publicly acknowledging those who donate.
“I think it’s certainly appropriate recognition for a family that’s stepped up in support of our student-athletes and our program,” Krebs said.
In exchange for their support, UNM football field was named “Branch Field” and the Branches were provided with such perks as use of a suite, tickets and marketing considerations.
In October 2016, when the Journal asked whether payments were being made on schedule, Kemp declined a request for the contract with the Branches and for a schedule of payments made to date.
“Out of respect for donor privacy, the UNM Foundation does not share donor or gift information unless the donor has authorized us to do so,” Kemp wrote in 2016.
Messages left with Margaret Branch for comment have not been returned to the Journal.
After Franchini’s ruling in May, former WisePies owner Steve Chavez released proof of payment for his deal that ended in 2017.
He also challenged other naming rights holders to do the same and voiced his concern with how the foundation handled his partnership with the university.
“Like many of you, I’ve found the UNM Foundation to be secretive and a very quiet entity choosing not to communicate with me at all, only reaching out to invite me to more donor events,” Chavez wrote in a statement to media on June 5.
Steve Chavez’s deal ended when UNM announced the Dreamstyle Remodeling deal last spring. Dreamstyle’s Larry Chavez, no relation, had pledged $10 million over 10 years to UNM for naming rights for the football stadium and basketball arena in a transaction that included marketing and other considerations provided by Learfield Sports.
Larry Chavez released to the Journal a copy of his contract at his press conference in 2017.
In an email to Kemp on June 6, the Journal, noting Franchini’s ruling, again requested the Branch Field documents and added a request for the baseball naming rights deal for Santa Ana Star Field.
IPRA requires a public entity to release requested documents immediately, if possible. If it doesn’t, it requires a response within three days. The documents are supposed to be released within 15 days absent a denial citing the specific reason they are being withheld.
The foundation did not provide a response within three days.
On June 8, after receiving no response, the Journal emailed Kemp, asking if she or the foundation had received the Journal’s June 6 request.
With still no response on June 11, the Journal sent an email to UNM Foundation CEO Henry Nemcik, asking if IPRA requests should be sent to someone else.
The following morning, Pat Allen, general counsel for the foundation, responded with an email that said, “Please do not contact the Foundation’s President/CEO about your current or future IPRA requests. Jennifer Kemp is your point of contact at the Foundation. Rest assured that she received your recent IPRA request, and that the Foundation will respond in due course.”
On June 14, Kemp replied by stating that the foundation would not release the documents “on several grounds” including because it “respects and honors the donor’s right to make their information public or keep it confidential.”