Money trail: N.C. school officials decline to reveal whereabouts of $40K in Gannett Foundation gifts

Gannett CEO Craig Dubow recommended the company’s charitable arm give the money in 2007 and 2006 to Western Carolina University for endowed scholarships, public documents show.

Now, nearly two weeks after I first raised questions about the $40,000’s disposition, a senior WCU official has acknowledged that the public school doesn’t have a scholarship fund named for the Gannett Foundation. Clifton Metcalf, the university’s vice chancellor for advancement and external affairs, also concedes that WCU offers student scholarships named for Dubow and his wife Denise. In a telephone interview, however, he refused to say whether the foundation money went to the fund honoring the Dubows, citing university policy on privacy of financial records.

The foundation’s public income tax returns show that the gifts — two $20,000 grants — were given for endowed scholarships at WCU. (The school, in Cullowhee, N.C. , has 9,000 students, and is part of the taxpayer-supported University of North Carolina system.)

I examined the foundation’s newly filed 2007 return late last month under federal open-records laws. Last year’s grant came while Dubow urged fiscal discipline and shared sacrifice, as revenue and earnings began a steep slide, prompting layoffs that have now cost employees thousands of jobs.

Elite executive benefit
Dubow (left) earmarked the $40,000 under a special perquisite for select Gannett executives. Under that perq, the foundation imposes fewer restrictions on donation requests from top management compared to requests from average employees and the public. For example, rules applying to regular employees and the public say: “In any public acknowledgment or signage, be sure to note that this grant is from the Gannett Foundation.”

Last year’s WCU grant was among $320,000 awarded to charities recommended by Dubow and 15 current and former Gannett executives — including some of the highest-paid brass, my analysis of the tax return found. The 2007 grants were on top of $724,000 the foundation gave in 2004-2006 to charities favored by executives.

Now, to reiterate what I wrote before, the Dubows may very well have established and paid for their scholarship fund with their own money. In fact, the 2007 tax return shows the Gannett Foundation matched an unidentified employee’s $10,000 gift under the GannettMatch benefit. That could have been Dubow, ponying up for his own fund.

So, where’s the $40,000?
Trying to answer that question, I e-mailed the foundation’s executive director, Tara Connell (she’s also Gannett’s official spokeswoman) on Wednesday. I posed these questions:

  • Did the $40,000 go to the Craig and Denise Dubow scholarship fund, which is listed on this WCU page?
  • If not, which endowed scholarship fund or funds received the $40,000?
  • How did these $40,000 in grants advance the interests of Gannett’s shareholders?

This is the second time I’ve asked Connell these three questions; the first time was Nov. 29. As I post this, I have not received any replies.

Earlier: Documents reveal platinum benefit for top executives. Plus: other noteworthy exec grants, and: Gannett sells Indiana newspaper to fund foundation projects.

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

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