Legal Hotline: Right to Know Law Donor

  • Dec 01, 2016

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  A school board voted to accept an anonymous donation that can only be used to pay the salary and benefits of the creative arts teacher for one year.  The position was created and filled over the summer.  Can we get the name of the donor and do we have to file a formal Right to Know Law request? 

A:  This information should be public.  Agencies may, but are not required to answer informal requests for records.

Section 708(b)(13) of the Right to Know Law exempts from public access “records that would disclose the identity of an individual who lawfully makes a donation to an agency.”  However, there is an exception to this rule when the donation is “intended for or restricted to providing remuneration or personal tangible benefit to a named public official or employee of the agency.” 

In this situation, the donation is restricted to providing pay and benefits to a particular agency employee, the creative arts teacher.  This fact should trigger the exception to the general rule and require the school to release the name of the donor.

Many agencies answer – and sometimes even prefer -  informal inquiries.  A reporter should ask for information in whatever way he or she thinks will hasten the response.  If an agency does not respond quickly, however, PNA recommends filing a formal Right to Know Law request, which starts the clock on the agency’s obligation to respond under the Law.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please consult your newspaper’s attorney or the Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.



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