CSU Stanislaus faces inquiry into cost of Palin visit

Writing is visible on the palm of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's hand as she speaks to delegates at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, April 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Writing is visible on the palm of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's hand as she speaks to delegates at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, April 9, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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Students at Cal State Stanislaus have been trying to find out how much a foundation is paying Sarah Palin to speak at a fundraising event for the campus. The CSU Stanislaus foundation that booked the former vice presidential nominee refuses to divulge Palin’s fee. The university claims to have no information about it. But Tuesday students revealed four pages what they called Palin’s contract. The flap raises questions about foundations that raise money on behalf of state universities — and aren’t subject to the same level of transparency.

Some students questioned Cal State Stanislaus’ decision to have Sarah Palin speak at the campus’ 50th anniversary gala. Freshman Ashli Briggs did. The political science student first raised the issue in an online chat with another student.

"We were chatting to each other online" Briggs recalled "Sarah Palin’s coming! Oh my gosh! And it kind of grew from there. That’s when we said we need to know the details, we have a right to know."

Alicia Lewis was the other student on that online chat. She said a foundation that raises money for students should be transparent about how it spends that money, especially these days.

"When we have budget cuts, and we have faculty losing pay, and we’re paying more for classes where’s our support from donations? Where’s it going and is it being used responsibly?" Lewis asked.

The former Republican vice presidential nominee and Alaska governor has pulled down as much as $100,000 for a single speaking engagement.

The students wanted to know how much the CSU Stanislaus Foundation had promised Palin — but they say the foundation’s refused to tell them.

State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) didn’t accept that response. He contacted university officials about Palin's fee.

"We simply asked about that," Yee said, "and the response that we got from CSU and the foundation was it was none of your business."

University officials have said that disclosing Palin’s fee would violate a confidentiality clause in her contract. After Yee invoked California’s Public Records Act to obtain university documents that relate to the Palin visit, university representatives said they had no information.

That was before student Ashli Briggs got a phone call last Friday, April 9.

"I was informed that administrators were destroying documents" Briggs said.

Briggs called Alicia Lewis. Lewis said she and some other students drove to the administrative buildings and saw a student throw some papers into a dumpster.

"After going through the documents we ended up finding pages 4-9 of Sarah Palin’s contract that our school said that they didn’t have" Lewis said.

That “contract” doesn’t include Palin’s name, or her fee. But it does specify that it’s for someone who’ll be flying from Anchorage Alaska.

Leland Yee said, "this is indeed a dark day for the CSU."

Senator Leland Yee forwarded the documents the students found to the state attorney general.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown Jr. announced late Tuesday that he’s launched a broad investigation into the Cal State Stanislaus Foundation’s finances and their alleged efforts to dispose of the documents concerning the Palin visit.

In a written statement, Russ Giambelluca, California State University, Stanislaus Vice President of Business and Finance said, “no one has been instructed to destroy vital documents on anyone’s behalf.”

It’s not clear that the Cal State Stanislaus fundraising foundation violated California’s Public Records Act. That law applies only to public entities.

Yee said his beef is that it also should apply to foundations linked with public universities.

"The location of that foundation is in public property — it’s in the CSU administrative building" Yee explained. "The Web site, the telephone, the e-mails — rest within the university. The staffing of the foundation is all in the staffing of the university."

Yee has introduced a bill that would require these foundations to comply with California’s Public Record Act.