MoJo to UCLA: Release the Milken Documents!

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 Bruinthe 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:

 

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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