When links between donations to the University of Nebraska and university contracts came up almost 30 years ago, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said it was not ethical to connect the two.

Then-Attorney General Robert Spire issued an opinion in 1987 after State Sen. Ernie Chambers asked about a university bid request that included a solicitation for donations.

Chambers raised questions about the construction of an indoor practice field at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln after the university told bidders that in choosing a contractor, it would take contributions into consideration.

Ethics require UNL to separate efforts to gain contractor contributions from the bidding process, Spire wrote.

In weighing the matter, Spire said two opposite conclusions could be reached about UNL’s process.

On one side, Spire wrote, the process could be considered legal because the university is trying to construct the building at the lowest cost, and all bidders can make use of the contribution allowance.

On the other side, it could be considered illegal because the contributions are separate and unrelated to the actual construction of the building. In reality, he wrote, bidders are not treated uniformly because the contributions favor larger, more established, higher tax-bracket bidders.

Spire concluded that the ethics of the situation clearly dictated separating contributions from the bidding process.

UNL’s bid request was rewritten to remove all contribution elements, according to a World-Herald article.

On UNO’s Pacific Campus, several dorm projects have gone to the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation without a competitive bidding process for the lead contracts. NU officials have pointed to the foundation’s generosity in the projects, including a $6.4 million donation toward one dorm, as evidence they were good deals.

When The World-Herald asked NU President Hank Bounds about the attorney general opinion in relation to construction of the dorms, Bounds said in an email that it applies to a particular instance involving competitive bidding, not a ground lease. NU used ground leases on the dorms instead of bidding.

The attorney general opinion, Bounds said, “does not apply here.”

Contact the writer: kate.howard@owh.com, 402-444-3185, twitter.com/KateOWH

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Read also: 

• No public bidding on major NU contracts

• Regent Howard Hawks buys bonds issued for Baxter Arena

• Scott Foundation donations to NU top $110 million

• UNL Chancellor Perlman mistakenly tells Nebraska lawmakers work was bid


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