The Kansas University Alumni Association is among several alumni organizations nationwide that could be billed for back postage if it is determined that it misused its non-profit mailing status.
KU and the other alumni groups, including the University of Missouri, are being audited by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The inspectors are investigating whether the groups sent mail that advertised special trips and merchandise at a lower rate reserved for non-profit organizations.
An official with the postal inspector's office would not say how many groups were being audited, but an informal survey by the Council of Alumni Association Executives showed that as many as 30 percent of the large alumni associations that are members were being audited or had been questioned by the Postal Service, said Robert Forman, the group's president. The group has about 90 members.
FORMAN SAID the survey showed the average association bill could be from $10,000 to $12,000.
The focus of the audits are ``cooperative mailings,'' which offer special trips and merchandise, such as credit cards, watches and lamps, to raise money for the associations.
Paul Griffo, spokesman for the Postal Inspection Service, said the organizations might have used their non-profit mailing rates to send information designed to generate a profit for a private company.
``It may be a situation in which a non-profit organization is going above and beyond what they are allowed to do,'' Griffo said. ``Postage is not being paid that should be paid'' in some cases.
The KU and MU associations received letters from the postal inspector in April asking for information on all cooperative mailings since January 1988. Neither organization has heard back from the Postal Service.
BOTH ORGANIZATIONS also immediately stopped using the non-profit rate of 8.4 cents a letter on cooperative mailings, instead paying 16.8 cents.
According to guidelines involving non-profit cooperative mailings, each of the organizations involved in the mailing must have non-profit status. Cooperative mailings produced by an organization that is not authorized to mail at the non-profit rate must pay the regular rate.
Fred Williams, director of KU's Alumni Association, said his board of directors had asked him not to make the audit a public matter, so he didn't comment on the amount that KU could owe the Postal Service.
However, Williams did say that the Postal Service rules had been unclear. The Council of Alumni Association Executives' survey of its members has also shown that the audits appear to be arbitrary.
For example, some alumni associations, such as KU and MU had been audited for a period beginning in January of 1988. Others were audited for periods that began earlier.
WILLIAMS SAID he has no idea how long it will take for the Postal Service to make a ruling on the KU alumni association audit. He has heard, though, that the alumni association at Notre Dame was the first to receive a request for an audit from the Postal Services. That association has received a bill, said Williams, and is appealing the matter now.
George Walker, assistant vice chancellor for alumni relations at the University of Missouri, said he had no idea the association could be violating postal regulations.
``It came as a shock to me,'' he said.
Walker said the questions about the mailings surprised him because Postal Service guidelines require that non-profit mail be approved by a representative of the local post office before it is mailed. The MU mailings were approved, he said.
``We're trying to fight this on the basis that we weren't doing anything wrong,'' Walker said. ``I believe what we were doing was well within the bounds.''