Exposing donor influence in KSU scandal - CBS46 News


Exposing donor influence in KSU scandal

Source: Kennesaw State University via Facebook Source: Kennesaw State University via Facebook

As the campus uproar grew over benching the five cheerleaders who knelt, KSU president Sam Olens passed the buck onto the athletic department.

He said it wasn't his decision.

But text messages, made public, which include two local politicians bragging about their success in pressuring him to banish the women from sight, have raised more questions than answers.

"It muddies the waters," says William Perry with Georgia Ethics Watchdogs.

In fact, we've learned from sources, state education officials are now aggressively probing Olens' version of events. As we are probing the political connections that appear to have been in play.

Critics raised concern when President Olens was appointed last year. He was a career politician: the state Attorney General and Chairman of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners.

Who would he serve they asked; the students and staff, or political allies?

He claims the decision to banish the cheerleaders during the anthem was made before he got messages from State Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Sheriff Neil Warren pressuring him to do so.

We'll take him at his word.

But the CBS46 Bulldog poured over a decade's worth of campaign contribution lists, federal and at the county level. We found, not only did President Olsen appear on multiple lists as a regular contributor to the re-election campaigns of Sheriff Warren.

But Warren's campaign, as well as his wife Penny, made contributions exceeding $1000 bucks to Olen's various campaigns. Olens also got dough from Rep. Ehrhart. Ehrhart by the way, chairs the House committee in charge of funding the university.

Both men led the charge in their attempt to silence the women through the president.

"Clearly the sheriff and state Rep. think they influence the process," says Perry.

The men have their defenders though. The Georgia Sheriffs' Association told us they stand by Sheriff Warren.

And the current Cobb County Commission chair says he is entitled to say whatever he wants to whomever he wants.  

"His remarks are his remarks. And he is entitled to his opinion," said Chair Mike Boyce.

But those who track political influence see it differently.

"Why is a sheriff and a state rep having so much influence on a process that's a campus issue," asks Perry.

Good question. We had the same one for all those mentioned here. But sadly, none had the guts to go on camera and defend themselves.

Rep. Ehrhart sent us a statement standing by his actions and admitting he donated $1,000 to Olens. Sheriff Warren refused more than one request for an interview. And Olens, who heads a public university funded by your tax dollars, wouldn't face the camera either.

The school instead sent us a weeks old statement which did not address our specific questions over contributions and influence.

It all smells funny to our watchdog.

"I think it's important for a university president to represent the university [not other interest]," Perry said. 

Finally, The Bulldog did speak with some of the five cheerleaders at the center of all this. They too are dismayed and curious as to these political pressures that appear to be stomping on their first amendment rights.

Copyright 2017 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Connect with CBS46