Because the gifts went to the University System of Georgia Foundation, they were not required to be disclosed under a state ethics law that requires disclosure of gifts of more than $250 to a state employee.
The foundation, the University System's nonprofit fund-raising arm, has paid nearly half of Meredith's compensation over the last three years. The chancellor and the Board of Regents oversee the state's 34 public colleges and universities.
Bill Bozarth, executive director of the Georgia chapter of the government watchdog Common Cause said the donations were ``just as disturbing as it would be if Governor Perdue were getting money from state contractors.''
University officials said there was no conflict of interested because dealings with the companies are completely separate from the contributions to the foundation.
``The Board of Regents has not known who the donors are to the foundation,'' Meredith said. The gifts, he said, ``play no role in the business of the University System.''
The foundation's trustees refused to identify corporate donors when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked for the records in June. But the foundation relented this month after state Attorney General Thurbert Baker's office indicated the foundation could not use tax laws to keep the records confidential.
The records show 14 companies that hold contracts with the University System have donated $114,000 to the foundation since July 2001. In that period, the companies did $29.3 million in business with the regents.
The foundation records showed that regents or foundation trustees, or companies with which they are affiliated, made substantial contributions to the foundation in the last three years. Georgia Crown Distributing Co., which is owned by regent Donald Leebern, gave $50,000. Atlantic American Corp., whose president is foundation trustee and former regent Hilton Howell, donated $10,000. Regents Chairman Joel Wooten's Columbus law firm contributed $10,000.
Two regents serve on the University System of Georgia Foundation board, one as chairman. Three University System employees run the foundation from their state government offices.
The Board of Regents and the state's colleges and universities are the only state agencies that maintain private organizations that supplement the salaries of their employees. All 34 public colleges and universities have foundations. At least seven have been providing salary supplements to their presidents.
In June, the regents in June forbade foundations including their own from providing direct private salary supplements to university presidents and the chancellor. The full salary, including the amount once supplemented by the foundation, now is paid with state funds.
To help offset the additional state expense, however, the regents asked the foundations to contribute an equivalent amount to the general fund of the individual university or the University System