Nass Pushes Back on Taxpayer Bailout for UWO Foundation

Nass is spot on.

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) on Thursday released a letter he wrote to Cross that states he’s aware of efforts to reach a deal that potentially would use public funds “to assist in what would be a bailout” of debts of the UW-Oshkosh Foundation.

“I am aware that such a bailout might need action by the Legislature to include elements of a deal in the 2017-’19 biennial budget,” Nass wrote. He said he hoped no one involved planned to “rush a bailout that benefits the private foundation and the banks/investors involved at the expense of the taxpayers or students.”

He urged Cross “to keep your commitment that the public won’t be forced to fund the inappropriate decisions of two campus administrators and the failed oversight of the System.”

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At issue is the fact UW-Oshkosh’s private fundraising foundation does not have enough cash to cover $14.5 million in debt for several real estate projects under investigation by the state Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice is negotiating the settlement on behalf of the UW System and Board of Regents.

The UW-Oshkosh projects were the subject of a suit the UW System filed in January against former Chancellor Richard Wells and his chief business officer, Thomas Sonnleitner, for allegedly funneling millions of dollars in university money into real estate projects through the private foundation to push that work despite a weak economy.

The UW System ideally wants the UW-Oshkosh Foundation to remain solvent so that its assets are not frozen or at risk. That includes scholarship support for students. The UW-Oshkosh Foundation in fiscal 2016 provided $1.3 million in scholarships.

Note that despite the name, the UW-Oshkosh Foundation is a private organization that raises money to support UWO. There’s no good reason for the taxpayers to be on the hook for their bankruptcy.