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Continued: Bremer Foundation must clean up its act

  • Article by: PAUL OLSON
  • Last update: July 11, 2014 - 6:11 PM

Or use a local comparison: the two presidents of our higher education systems make about the amount paid to two Bremer trustees. But the academic leaders got their appointments on the basis of a national search, not from their fathers. They have Ph.Ds and are nationally ranked scholars. They manage budgets in the billions, employ thousands, and report to public boards as well as to the governor and the Legislature.

My second suggestion to the two watchdogs is to insist that the three Bremer trustees be removed from any office of the foundation, so that it is a free-standing organization with a board chair, president and treasurer. The independent foundation board should chart the mission and goals of the foundation, and fall under the purview of the attorney general and court, just like every other foundation.

Third, Bremer trustees should tear up the pre-1969 tax-dodging, self-perpetuating private-bank, nepotism-driven trust arrangement and get on with philanthropy in the best Minnesota tradition. Sure, the trustees can point to the 1941 charter and claim Otto Bremer allowed for such compensation. But today such percentage formulas are out of sync with charitable standards. Nobody gets a percentage of the corpus.

Blandin, for its part, made all of the reforms recommended above, and it is the better for it. Principled leaders including Elmer L. Andersen, Ken Dayton and James P. Shannon helped us do it.

The judge and the AG should demand that Bremer reform, and the Minnesota Council on Foundations should provide guidance. Voluntary compliance is better than coercion.


Paul Olson, president of Blandin Foundation from 1978 to 2003, is CEO of Portland Group Inc. He may be reached at

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