Poll, belittled by university, shores Robertson case

Family locked in suit with Princeton over control of $650 million foundation

By: David Campbell
   The Robertson family has publicized the findings of a national opinion poll it commissioned on donor intent that an attorney for Princeton University characterized as an attempt by the family to "muddy the water" and misrepresent facts in its ongoing legal dispute with the university.
   The Robertson family is locked in a legal battle with Princeton over control of a $650 million endowed foundation established to expand and support the graduate program at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
   Douglas Eakeley, Princeton’s lawyer in the case, said no one would dispute the findings of the poll — essentially, that donors’ wishes should be honored in regard to how their money is spent — and said Princeton has done just that in the Woodrow Wilson School’s graduate program.
   Mr. Eakeley said the family misrepresented the program when, in publicizing its survey, it claimed that the private sector is the largest employer of Wilson School graduates. He said 87 percent of employed Wilson School students who earned master’s degrees in 2005 have public- and nonprofit-sector jobs.
   University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt called the family’s assertions about private-sector jobs "so blatantly inaccurate that they can only be based on totals for undergraduates and graduates," noting the Robertson Foundation supports graduate programs.
   The survey, by Utica, N.Y.-based Zogby International, one of the nation’s top polling firms, will not be a part of the pending lawsuit, said family spokeswoman Jennifer Berkowitz. Rather, she said, the Robertson family commissioned it to gauge the public’s attitudes about issues related to donor intent.
   The nationwide survey of 1,216 voting-age adults was conducted last month and posed a series of 10 questions on charitable giving, with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.
   In commissioning the poll, the family’s public relations team submitted draft questions that were then vetted by Zogby to remove any terms that might skew the results, Ms. Berkowitz said.
   The poll found that 53 percent of respondents said they would "definitely stop giving" to a charitable organization that ignored their request to use their donation for a specific purpose.
   About 36 percent of respondents said the recipient organization should "definitely" return the donation in full if donor intent is knowingly ignored.
   Almost 47 percent of respondents said nonprofit managers who use their donation for a purpose other than for which it was given should be held "legally and criminally liable."
   Mr. Eakeley said the family in promoting its poll is attempting to "muddy the water" in the case and "to really present an incorrect and inaccurate perspective on what the graduate school does." He also pointed to the poll as the latest attempt by the family to "litigate this case in the press" because he said it is not succeeding in court.
   Ms. Berkowitz said the Robertsons are not attempting to try the case in the press.
   "They believe the evidence they have is overwhelming, so they don’t think they have any need to try the case in the press," she said.
   The Robertson Foundation was established in 1961 to support the graduate program at the Woodrow Wilson School by the family of Charles S. and Marie H. Robertson, heirs to the A&P grocery fortune.
   The original endowment of $35 million in A&P stock has since grown to about $650 million. The family stipulated the money was to be used for programs to train graduate students for careers in government service.
   In July 2002, the family filed suit seeking to strip Princeton of its endowment. The suit alleged the university misused the foundation’s funds, improperly directing at least $100 million to uses other than for what the money originally was intended.
   The case could go to trial in fall 2006.