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Ohio State pays PR firm confidential amount for strategic counsel

Ohio State has been paying a public relations firm off and on since February 2013, but the costs of those services are not being released because they’re considered confidential trade secrets.

The university authorized PR firm Edelman to “provide strategic counsel and work” to the Board of Trustees at the direction of general counsel in February 2013, according to the letter of agreement, which was among records provided to The Lantern on Friday to fill a Sept. 18 request. The hourly billing rates for Edelman were redacted, though.

More recently, the university extended its agreement with Edelman in January for the period of Feb. 1 through July 31. The standard hourly billing rates were redacted in those letters as well.

OSU trustee Alan VanderMolen serves as the vice chairman of DJE Holdings — Edelman’s parent company — and his role includes supervising some of DJE Holdings’ growth properties, as well as Edelman Canada and Latin America. VanderMolen was appointed as a charter trustee this year to serve a three-year term.

OSU spokesman Chris Davey said Friday that VanderMolen’s role with the two entities doesn’t present a conflict of interest because he is a charter trustee, which means he is not a voting member of the Board of Trustees.

“Charter trustees serve in an advisory role, they have no voting privileges on the Board, they are not considered in determining whether a quorum is present, and they are not eligible to be officers of the Board,” Davey said in an email. “Because of this limited service in an advisory capacity, charter trustees do not meet the definition of ‘public official’ under the Ohio Ethics Laws, so the firm’s work presents no conflict.”

VanderMolen’s office was not immediately able to provide comment Friday afternoon.

The January agreement addendum noted Edelman bills OSU at the end of each month based on how much time it spent on the services that month.

It also bills OSU for out-of-pocket expenses with a 10 percent service charge, “other than with respect to travel and entertainment expenses reimbursable to Edelman employees,” and a 6 percent administrative charge for internal expenses like “local phone, fax, copier, postage, email, Internet/extranet charges and database administration costs.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Oct. 12, 2014, to include Chris Davey’s response about whether VanderMolen’s involvement with OSU and Edelman was a conflict of interest.


  1. Buckeye in the West

    Since when a public, tax funded university has confidentiality agreements? Ohio “sun shine” laws should make every university expense public.

    Yesterday’s Lantern article concerning legal fees for the Montgomery investigation, also indicated that certain expenses were confidential.

    If Ohio state was a private university, like Stanford, than can keep certain expenses confidential. But, as I mentioned earlier, are a publicly funded university receiving taxpayer support and federal grants, and have no right to keep any expense confidential.

  2. The PR ineptness of The Ohio State University is stunning.

    Now we are expected to believe that contracts with the PR firms who provide what has been embarrassing advice (assuming tOSU followed it) are not subject to sunshine laws. Can this administration get anything correct, ever?

  3. If the actions of the University “leadership” are justified, why the need for the spin doctors??? It has been known, (now recently verified) that OSU’s motives were purely monitary for sacrificing director Jon Waters, and the reputations of the current band members and band alumni. However there is no broom big enough to sweep this under any carpet. Those affected are not going away until tOSU rights this wrong.

  4. Still another inside job. Where is the outrage! This HAS TO BE a conflict of interest. Everybody has their hand out. There are thousands of PR firms in the country–you have to use the one that is owned by a trustee! I am not buying the well we did business with before a trustee…..then he should resign one or the other.

  5. Yeah, sure..........

    Gee, I wonder if this firm, who’s vice chairman is a TRUSTEE, told tOSU it would help their “image” with the Title IX investigation to oust Jon Waters? Strange that the investigation suddenly “disappeared” once Jon Waters was fired. Also strange that a TRUSTEE’S company is receiving funds from the university but the people that pay those funds, the taxpayers of the State of Ohio, don’t get to know how much they’re getting bilked out of.

    Stinks to high heaven. The truth is starting to come out and it’s even worse than was expected.
    I don’t tell anyone anymore that I am a tOSU alumni. I’m too ashamed.

  6. I call bullhockey on “no conflict of interest”

  7. “other than with respect to travel and entertainment expenses”. I’d like to know what ENTERTAINMENT expenses we are paying? Why does a PR firm need entertainment expenses?

  8. Instead of hiring a PR firm, OSU could just make itself a university that isn’t an embarrassment to everyone who goes there. Gee, let me think. First of all, don’t pay your administration exorbitant sums of money while jacking up tuition and slashing funds for full-time faculty–you know, the same thing that got you named the most “unequal public university in the country.” Second of all, quit the runaway “athletics culture” corruption. Better yet, discontinue athletics. Third, devote the university to academic matters. There, there’s some PR advice. You got it for free. Next one’s going to cost you.

  9. I see a huge conflict. There are MANY PR firms they could have chosen.

    Having worked in PR for three decades, I can assure you that OSU is paying some big bucks, easily close to the $400+ per hour they are paying other contractors for this joke of a mess. Even ENTRY level staffers at Edelman probably bill out at $75-85/hr, not that the individuals get paid much; lots of profit goes to bottom line and top management.

    Very sad waste of money.

  10. The arrogance of this OSU administration is simply astonishing. Is there anyone out there who can do a bit of pro bono legal work and challenge the rejection of a legitimate request for documents containing details of OSU financials?

    And not a conflict of interest?!? Holy crap. It seems all we can do is sit here and complain about this kind of corruption. What politician is going to say a word or lift a finger to do anything about it? It used to be that one thing that set the US apart from many other countries was that some people in power were willing to stand up and fight corruption. The corrupt used to try to keep their transgressions secret. Now it’s right out in the open for everyone to see, and the people in power can only say things to try to justify it. God help us all.

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