Wrongful fundraising alleged of Mansfield foundation

WELLSBORO — Responding to an investigation and petition from the state attorney general’s office, Tioga County Judge George Wheeler has cited the non-profit Mansfield Foundation of Mansfield with five counts of alleged inappropriate fundraising on behalf of Mansfield University.

The charges stem from activities the foundation undertook following the expiration of an agreement that connected the independent foundation with Mansfield University.

The attorney general’s office alleges that the foundation used the university’s logo and images of its iconic North Hall building in soliciting donations. Further, the complaint alleges that the foundation told potential donors that contributions to the foundation would accrue more dividends than those given directly to the university, and that giving to the foundation would allow donors to earmark funds for a specific purpose, while direct giving to the university could not be done in such a specified manner.

In addition, the attorney general’s office alleges the foundation told potential donors that direct donations to the university would result in the publication of the donor’s name, meaning that anonymous donations directly to the university were impossible.

Investigators for the attorney general’s office also contend that the foundation told donors that it was not subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act, implying that direct donations to the university were subject to that act.

Each of the five charges carries a potential fine of $1,000.

Adam Shienvold, attorney for the foundation, said he believes the citations stem from a single letter that the foundation sent to potential donors in early 2016. Shienvold characterized the letter to be “informational” and not a direct solicitation as defined by the Charities Law of Pennsylvania. The attorney could not say how many people received the letter, only saying it was not a “universal distribution.”

The foundation has provided scholarship and other fundraising assistance to the university since 1974. In a full-page letter to the community, published in the Penny Saver Shopping Guide of Mansfield on July 28, Lawrence B. Mansfield, foundation board president, wrote: “The foundation is disappointed by the attorney general’s action and disputes the characterizations in the petition.”

Mansfield referred all questions to Shienvold, but, in his published letter, said: “The foundation has nothing to hide about its fundraising or its finances. It provides audited financial statements and other financial disclosures to the university annually and upon request, and the foundation will open its books to the attorney general for inspection to demonstrate it has more than fulfilled its charitable mission.”

Because Mansfield University is part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, its employees are banned from fundraising by law. Many schools in the system have created non-profit foundations where non-state employees can do the fundraising work without violating state law. “The foundation has suspended fundraising activities at the university’s request,” the Pennysaver letter said.

Wheeler ordered the foundation to provide an independent audit of funds raised since January 2015.

Asked for comment, Terry Day, media and public relations director for the university, said: “We are aware of the petition but Mansfield University is not a party to the action and has no further comment.”