Who helped pay for Trump, Pompeo visit? It’s a secret, WSU Tech says



Mike Pompeo and Ivanka Trump stand with WSU aviation students during a tour of WSU Tech on Oct. 24.

It cost WSU Tech almost $12,000 to host Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month.

Most of the costs incurred were for equipment rental fees, labor and food. But thanks to an anonymous $10,000 donation to the school, WSU Tech only had to cover a little less than $2,000 of the bill.

Sheree Utash (Courtesy WSU)
Sheree Utash (Courtesy WSU)

WSU Tech President Sheree Utash refused to name the anonymous donor in a phone interview with The Sunflower.

She said the donor offered the contribution during the planning stages of the visit to help cover costs.

“That’s what we’ve been asked — to keep it anonymous,” Utash said. “We knew there was going to be some expenses for lighting and risers and things like that. This particular person was very willing to help offset some of those expenses anonymously through a donation to the foundation. So that’s what we’re doing.”

The public will likely never know who funded the visit because the money was passed through the WSU Tech Foundation, a 501(c)3. 501(c)3s are not required by the IRS to disclose who gives money to their operation.

Funneling money through university foundations to preserve donors’ anonymity is common practice. According to Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, a non-profit, non-partisan First Amendment think tank based at the University of Florida, some donors will give money to foundations anonymously because they don’t want others knowing they have that money to give.

But once that dollar amount gets high enough, the public should know about it, LoMonte said.

Ivanka Trump and Mike Pompeo's visit cost WSU Tech almost $12,000, but an anonymous donor gave their foundation $10,000 to cover most of the costs.
Ivanka Trump and Mike Pompeo’s visit cost WSU Tech almost $12,000, but an anonymous donor gave their foundation $10,000 to cover most of the costs.

“Once a donation gets to be over a certain dollar amount, that donor is going to have a lot of influence and leverage with the university, and the public ought to know about that,” LoMonte said. “There sure is a compelling interest in who’s giving a million dollars and their ought to be a threshold in the law that once you give a large enough amount of money that you’re actually going to have sway over the university, that becomes public knowledge whether you like it or not.”

Giving money to university foundations without naming donors is an evolving legal gray area. Currently, students at George Mason University are arguing before the Virginia Supreme Court that the university’s foundation ought to disclose their records, including donors. 

“It’s a problem because there really is no separation between the foundation at the university, despite what they try to insist,” LoMonte said. “In fact, there have been cases where foundations run into financial or legal trouble and the university is responsible for bailing them out. So, it’s complete fiction to say the foundation is somehow separate and apart from the university. 

“No one who makes a donation to the foundation thinks they are sending money to a separate corporation — they think they’re sending it to the university. It’s a scheme to avoid open government laws.

Trump and Pompeo toured WSU Tech’s National Center for Aviation Training and Textron Aviation as part of a signing of a “Pledge to America’s Workers” in October. 

The pledge was created by the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, a presidential advisory board that is co-chaired by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Ivanka Trump. Utash also serves on the board.

Following the visit to WSU Tech, Pompeo spoke with WSU students, encouraging them to work for the State Department amidst attacks on acting Ukranian Ambassador Bill Taylor by President Donald Trump.

WSU also had another high-profile visit by Attorney General William Barr earlier that month. Barr held a roundtable with local law enforcement, Interim WSU President Andy Tompkins and former KBOR member David Murfin.