The Corner of Lyon & Dodge Streets or the Intersection of Crooked & [off] Center Streets or The NU Foundation’s Latest Gussied-Up Report Lists Tonn Ostergaard as a “Volunteer” but Gave Him $372,000 Grand for “Investment Advice” Isn’t that an Oxymoron: A “Volunteer” who Gets nearly $400 HUNDRED GRAND for his precious “Volunteering?”

October 30, 2012


WASHINGTON, D.C. (exclusive) by Ivy Harper [first published in the Summer of 2012]

Trying to get accurate information from the University of Nebraska Foundation is like trying to collect priest info from the Vatican.

Beyond that, the NU Foundation’s latest IRS Form 990 reads like a contemporary version of Versailles right around 1789 but before the Storming of the Bastille.

A coterie of well-connected Cornhuskers has been shamelessly enriching themselves on money given to the NU Foundation by grateful alumni who I’m pretty sure don’t think that their collective donations are funding lavish salaries, chauffeurs, chefs, first-class, charter, & “companion” travel, country clubs, and more. I am certain if NU alumni examined the NU Foundation’s shocking IRS report, there’s little question a great many would be sickened by the Foundation’s focus on excessively rewarding their top executives and “volunteer” directors.

For example: Terry Fairfield and “volunteer” Tonn Ostergard.

Let’s start with Mr. Fairfield. Why is a Foundation head– seven years after he stepped down as President & CEO – still receiving more than $700,000 (seven hundred thousand dollars) in annual “compensation?”

One line that ostensibly “explains” part of Fairfield’s obscene payment goes like this: “Compensation of $430,410 was paid to Terry Fairfield as part of a final payment in a ‘non-qualified’ plan that was established in 1996 for services during “Campaign Nebraska” from 1993-2000.

Okay, that “Campaign” ended more than twelve years ago.

Then, there’s Tonn Ostergard, President & CEO of Crete Carrier who also is a Director of Union Bank (aka Nelnet).

On the NU Foundation website and on the IRS’s Form 990, Ostergard is listed several times as a “Volunteer” Director. The verbatim language is framed this way:

“The campaign is guided by an exemplary voluntary executive leadership committee consisting of a blue-ribbon panel of area business men and women dedicated to the growth and success of the University of Nebraska.”

However, in an addendum almost at the end of the 50-page IRS document, the Ostergard as “Volunteer” plot thickens.

Suddenly, on one of the very last pages in teensy, tiny print, we learn that Ostergard is yet another NU Foundation “investment advisor” and for his services to that end, Ostergard, the “volunteer,” received in compensation $371,837 (three hundred seventy-one thousand, eight hundred thirty seven dollars) for investment “advice.”

Yet, on the IRS Form 990 Page 7, Section a, is the heading: Compensation of Officers, Directors, Trustees, Key Employees, Highest Compensated Employees & Independent Contractors. It’s abundantly clear that this is the section and place to note if an NU Foundation Director – volunteer or otherwise – is receiving any compensation from the Foundation. But no. Readers have to pore through another forty pages to find info that the IRS point-blank asked to be put: On. Page. Seven.

That was the place to put the fact that Tonn Ostergard, a volunteer, received nearly $400,000 dollars from the very Foundation that he’s a Director of and the Foundation on whose sixteen Committees Ostergard sits, all of them as “Chair-Elect. This bears repeating: Tonn Ostergard sits on every single one of the NU Foundation’s 16 Committees including the critical ones of “Compensation” and “Audit.”

So, Ostergard gets to determine who gets paid and how much (as in, “I think my investment advice is worth, oh, let’s see: how about $371,857.00 dollars”); and then Ostergard is the “Chair” of the NU Audit Committee that “audits” decisions like the one he just made about the worth of his own compensation “advice.”

On Page 7, 15 other Nebraskans who do work for the NU Foundation as “Volunteers” are listed alphabetically and Ostergard’s name is among them with a “Zero” listed by all sixteen of their names; as in no compensation received.

So, it seems that listing Ostergard’s $371,837 payout from the Foundation on Page 7 next to all the 0 (zero) dollars for compensation would have stood out like an IRS Form 990 Report that’s missing a bunch of (critical) pages with lines 60-66; 67-74; 73A & 73B & 69B.

The Nebraska Unicameral needs to take over the NU Foundation. And start over. With Public Servants. Either that, or the Foundation must have its tax-exempt status revoked. Let’s get real; it’s not a “non-profit.” A clique of Cornhuskers are profiting big-time from the Foundation’s riches. It’s become their personal piggy bank and because it’s “private,” no one can figure out precisely what’s going on. Ergo, it’s a classic Corporation more in the mold of MF Global or Goldman Sachs.

The outrages are endless. How about the fact that the NU Foundation has the gall to state that they spent $162,394 dollars on “miscellaneous” stuff.

No, miscellaneous is, at most, $5-$10 thousand dollars, not $162,000.

The NU Foundation spent a quarter of a million dollars on what they list as “telephones.” Then, they have the nerve to add a category called “Other expenses: $279,730.” That’s it. Just trust us. We spent nearly $300,000 (three hundred grand) on “other” stuff but don’t ask.

Come on. What kind of “audit” allows that? List those expenses; they can’t just randomly state “other” without a single sentence of explanation. Seriously, it reads like a report a Middle Schooler would put together. For Muppets.

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