Group trying to buy KPLU told to change how it collects donations

An attorney for Pacific Lutheran University has told a community group trying to raise money to buy Tacoma-based public radio station KPLU that the group must alter how it collects donations on the station’s website, and it must stop using the station’s logo in its fundraising efforts.

A letter sent Friday “makes certain demands regarding the use of KPLU’s trademark and logo and about the use of KPLU’s website,” Stephen Tan, chairman of the Friends of 88.5 FM, confirmed Monday.

The letter, written by Tacoma attorney Bill Holt, states people making donations on the KPLU website may be confused about what they’re giving to, Tan said.

“It expresses concerns that there may be some confusion to people who’ve made a donation to Friends of 88.5 when they actually intended to donate to PLU,” Tan said.

Pacific Lutheran University near Tacoma has long owned and operated the station.

KPLU management has since modified KPLU.org’s website to eliminate the station’s logo from the group’s fundraising effort, and to provide separate and discernible donation links to the group’s fundraiser and to the station.

Tan, who declined to provide a copy of the letter to The Seattle Times on Monday, said his group is working to migrate all of the community group’s fundraising efforts and online donation solicitations onto a different website — SaveKPLU.org.

PLU’s letter comes five months into a six-month campaign to raise $7 million to buy the station as an alternative to Seattle public radio KUOW’s $8 million bid last fall. As of Tuesday, the group had raised more than $6 million.

Owned by the University of Washington, KUOW sought to obtain KPLU’s broadcast rights to build “Seattle’s NPR Superstation,” while eliminating KPLU’s news operation and convert the station to an all-music format.

Top officials involved in the deal — who internally referred to KUOW’s efforts to buy KPLU as “Fight Club” — kept details of the proposed purchase secret from the public for as long as possible, records show.

For months, the newly formed nonprofit Friends group used the KPLU logo on fliers and in other promotions for its fundraising effort without complaint from the private university, Tan said.

PLU marketing executive Donna Gibbs said Monday the changes aren’t meant as an eleventh-hour sabotage to the group’s campaign.

“I want to be clear: It’s not our goal or our intent to disrupt the fundraising effort,” Gibbs said.

Rather, Gibbs said, PLU recently fielded phone calls from “people who were confused about making donations” on the KPLU website, which PLU had granted the group permission to use in its fundraising efforts.

“Some of the people have told us they didn’t want to donate to the ‘Save KPLU’ campaign, but just wanted their donations to go to ongoing station operations,” she said. “It was unclear on the KPLU.org website how to do that.”

The Friends group has “offered to do a complete accounting and send communications to each donor to clarify his or her intent,” Gibbs said.

Friday’s letter aimed only to “avoid further confusion, ensure compliance with charitable donation requirements and with (PLU’s) National Public Radio digital services agreement,” Gibbs said.

All online donations made through the KPLU.org site are processed via a platform hosted by NPR, with which PLU has a formal agreement, she said.

PLU’s letter wants the Friends group to refrain from using KPLU’s trademark and logo “because the KPLU logo is owned by PLU,” Gibbs said.

“Friends of 88.5 is a separate legal entity,” she said. “They can’t be using a trademark that we own.”

Amid a public outcry over the surprise deal, the UW and PLU agreed to allow the community group to raise money and bid for the station. As of Monday, the group had raised $5.9 million of $7 million needed by June 30. PLU, which set the deadline, has discretion of whether to accept any offer.

In the meantime, KUOW continues to seek required approval from the Federal Communications Commission on its bid to obtain KPLU’s broadcast license. The UW has said it will step aside should the community group raise the money and work out a deal with PLU.