Attorney General's Opinion 1984-85 #431



November 5, 1984

The Honorable Joseph H. Campbell
Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Norfolk

84-85 431

This is in response to your request for my opinion whether the Student Senate of Old Dominion University ("ODU") is subject to the requirements of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, §§2.1-340 through 2.1-346.1 of the Code of Virginia (the "Act").

You indicate that the Student Senate controls a budget of approximately $139,000, and that such funds are generated from fees charged to the students. The Student Senate allocates funds to the various student organizations and is responsible for the general management of the student government. The role and responsibilities of the Student Senate are outlined in a Constitution and Bylaws.

The Act requires public officials and public bodies to comply with certain disclosure and public access requirements. See §2.1-340.1 et seq. For purposcs of the Act, a public body is defined, among others, as any organization in the Commonwealth which is "supported wholly or principally by public funds." See §2.1-341(a), (e). On several prior occasions, this Office has considered the applicability of this section to organizations which are not State agencies in the strictest sense. For example, the University of Virginia Honor Committee was held to be subject to the Act. See 1977-1978 Report of the Attorney General at 482. Similarly, a hospital association and volunteer fire department, supported principally by public funds, were held to be subject to the Act. See 1982-1983 Report of the Attorney General at 719 and 726. Conversely, a voluntary association of college presidents, receiving no public funds, was held to be excluded from the Act. See 1974-1975 Report of the Attorney General at 584.

The Act does not provide a definition of "public funds." Applying the common usage to the term, it would include any moneys owned by government in the hands of government agencies or officials. Although generated from student fees, I assume that, as collected, the fees are paid into the State treasury as required by 2.1-180, and are included in the budget of the VicePresident for Student Affairs. I am of the opinion that when the money enters the system in this manner, it becomes "public funds." See 2.1-180; Aivey v. Brigham, 286 Ky. 610, 150 S.W.2d 935 (1940).

Section 2.1-340.1 indicates the General Assembly's clear intent that the Act be liberally construed in favor of public awareness and access to the operations of government Exceptions are to be narrowly construed in