Wikimedia executive comes to Wales defense

Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, says allegations that Wales misused funds were started by a "disgruntled former employee."

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read

In roughly the last nine months, Wikipedia's co-founder Jimmy Wales has expensed a total of $1,100 in travel-related costs to the nonprofit that runs the free online encyclopedia.

That's according to Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, who came to the defense of Wales in interviews Thursday with CNET TV and CNET News.com. She said that recent allegations that Wales misused foundation funds were started by a "disgruntled former employee" who's spread unsubstantiated rumors on his blog.

"I find it distressing," Gardner said. "(Wales) has done nothing but be modest, frugal, and do what's best for the organization."

Gardner's comments contribute to an ongoing tit-for-tat between Wales, Wikimedia executives, and former Wikipedia employee Danny Wool, who kicked off concerns about Wales on his blog All's Wool That Ends Wool. He suggested that his former co-worker had used the foundation as a personal "piggy bank," having expensed pricey wines, massages, and dinners. The expenses, he said, contributed to the foundation eventually taking away his credit card in 2006.

Wales and executives from the foundation have said that there has been no wrongdoing regarding his expenses. And Gardner, who joined Wikimedia in June, added to that sentiment.

She said that Wales expensed $1,100 for December travel to New York City, a trip Gardner asked him to take for a Wikipedia promotional event. But as a rule, she said, Wales errs on the side of paying his own bills related to promotions for Wikipedia rather than the reverse. She said that he typically does work for the foundation pro bono, and draws an income from his own for-profit company, Wikia.

"Jimmy has never used Wikimedia to subsidize his personal expenses," said Gardner, former senior director of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Wales has also come under fire recently for allegedly tampering with Wikipedia entries on behalf of an ex-girlfriend, Rachel Marsden, a former commentator for Fox News. People have claimed that Wales broke Wikipedia's conflict of interest rules by trying to influence the site's editing process when it came to her entry.

But Gardner said that Wales acted appropriately in his dealings with Wikipedia related to Marsden. When he and Marsden formed a relationship, Wales recused himself from any influence in the editing of her entry, she said. Gardner added that Wales does not influence any Wikipedia entries that involve personal relationships.

For her part, Gardner said she is trying to expand the influence of Wikimedia and Wikipedia. In December, she helped relocate the foundation from Florida to San Francisco; and the nonprofit has been hiring new staff to beef up operations. It now has a staff of 12.

One of her big goals for the foundation is to help bring Wikipedia to a much wider audience. The nonprofit wants to develop Wikipedia books, videos, and USB sticks, for people who have a computer but are without the Internet.

"We want to disseminate Wikipedia to people off the Internet," she said.