Higher education

Rastetter clarifies how his foundation donations are calculated

$10 million includes personal gifts from Board of Regents president

Iowa Board of Regents president Bruce Rastetter speaks to the University of Iowa Staff Council at Old Capitol Town Center in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Board of Regents president Bruce Rastetter speaks to the University of Iowa Staff Council at Old Capitol Town Center in Iowa City, Iowa, on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Nearly $10 million.

That’s how much money The Rastetter Foundation has awarded since its creation in 2008, according to information found on the website of Summit Agricultural Group, a company established in 1990 by entrepreneur and Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter.

According to the foundation’s form 990 tax filings, however, less than $1.5 million in gifts has been given over the past seven years, with the largest contributions coming in 2009 and 2010 when $728,250 and $675,209 was distributed, respectively. The most recent gift was made in 2011, according to the tax documents.

Rastetter, who serves as president of the foundation and CEO of Summit Agricultural Group, says the dollar amount is more indicative of donations made through the foundation plus personal money he’s donated.

Rastetter said his original plan for the foundation was to put money in and distribute it slowly. But, he said, as he started making major gifts, accountants recommended he give the money directly.

“The dollars are still given by me, personally, they just don’t go through the foundation, and there’s tax reasons to do that,” he said.

Rastetter, an Iowa-grown entrepreneur who made millions in the pork and ethanol industries, said he still gave those dollars, but the excerpt on the Summit website could be more clear.

“When they think about that on the website, they think about the foundation and me, personally, so they pull those two together,” he said. “We probably need to clarify that.”

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Because individual giving is not reported publicly, verifying the total Rastetter has given — both personally and through the foundation — is difficult. Recipients listed on the Rastetter Foundation’s tax forms include the foundations at Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa.

“Mr. Rastetter has his first amendment rights to give to who he wants to,” said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville. “But it’s really, really important, when you have a position of such authority, that all that’s transparent — that we know how much he’s given, and to who.”

Len Hadley, a UI alumnus, philanthropist and chairman of the audit committee for the UI Foundation, said when it comes to foundation giving and transparency, “990s should be the Bible.”

“With his level of public responsibility, I think that transparency is very important,” Hadley said. “And the 990 is one of the things we all rely on.”

Rastetter’s giving has come under increased scrutiny as he’s gained prominence as a power player in the ag industry, a “kingmaker” in local and national politics, and president of the board that oversees Iowa’s public universities.

Rastetter defends his charitable donations, noting, for starters, that he’s given $3.1 million to the University of Iowa, $2.3 million to Iowa State University, and $50,150 to University of Northern Iowa since the 1970s.

For years Rastetter also has touted his $5 million pledge to the University of Iowa’s new $55 million football complex. To date, he’s fulfilled $2 million of that pledge and he said he plans to donate the remaining $3 million over the next three years.

The Associated Press in April reported Rastetter made his first $500,000 payment on that pledge in 2012, but then waited three years before giving again — until after former UI President Sally Mason announced plans to step down.

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Once that happened, according to the AP report, Rastetter gave $1 million in five gifts, raising questions about whether “his giving comes with strings attached?”

But Rastetter said the timing of his giving had nothing to do with Mason’s tenure. Rather, he said, it was tied to slowed progress on the project and his other commitments. He added that during Mason’s tenure, he donated $1.7 million to the university.

Rastetter said he approached the UI Foundation in 2006 with his football complex gift offer — even though he didn’t sign the agreement and go public until 2008. And he originally planned to fulfill the commitment by 2011, but altered that timeline because work on the project didn’t begin until late 2011.

“My commitment was that, as they got the project started, I would begin giving, and I did,” Rastetter said. “But then also, because the project took six years to get started, I was giving other significant gifts that were kicking in at the same time.”

Rastetter said he worked with the UI Foundation to find an approach that would allow him to “give to all the things that I committed to.”

Those payments included $2.2 million to Iowa State University, $1 million to the Iowa State Fair, $500,000 to Ellsworth Community College, and $80,000 to the Ellsworth Hospital.

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