Last August, the University of California-Los Angeles announced that it had accepted a $10 million gift from Lowell Milken, a key figure in the junk bonds and savings and loan scandals of the 1980s, to launch a “Lowell Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy.” The University did not disclose that Milken, who is among the richest people in the world, has been banned for life from the securities industry. It also did not mention that Lowell’s brother and business partner, Michael Milken, was jailed on multiple federal felony counts related to his work at Drexel Burnham Lambert, a now-defunct investment bank where Lowell also worked. Lowell was Michael’s “closest confidant and adviser” at Drexel, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.
Like the University’s press release, initial coverage of the Milken’s donation from the Daily Bruin, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Daily News also neglected to mention his past.
On August 18, the week after the donation was announced, I reported on Milken’s history. The New York Times and other outlets picked up the story a few days later. When I first learned about the Milken gift, I asked a Mother Jones intern, Lauren Ellis, to file a document request with UCLA under the California Open Records Law. We asked for documents and emails related to the Milken deal and, crucially, the donor agreement between Milken and the university.
On October 5, UCLA finally responded, providing two letters from UCLA officials thanking Milken for his gift. The university refused to disclose the donor agreement or any other documents, arguing that it needed to protect “the personal privacy of its donors” and that releasing any documents beyond the two letters would “bring about a chilling effect on UCLA’s Foundation, in that the personal privacy of its donors, prospective donors, and those who volunteer their time to the Foundation would no longer be protected.” As Madeleine Buckingham, the CEO of Mother Jones, noted in a letter to UCLA last week, California courts have rejected both of these arguments for withholding information about donations to public universities.
We believe that UCLA’s decision to withhold the Milken documents represents a violation of California open records laws. You can read the letter (and our full argument) below: