PUBLIC INFORMATION — Californians Aware has asked the president of California State University, Stanislaus for access to review all the university's records dealing with the planned appearance of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin at the campus's 50th anniversary celebration in June.
The request, submitted to Dr.Hamid Shirvani April 1, follows requests by Senator Leland Yee and the First Amendment Coalition for copies of the contract for payment to Palin executed by the CSU Stanislaus Foundation. The Coalition, to avoid being accused of political partisanship, made a similar request to a nonprofit organization affiliated with UC Berkeley for the agreement under which former President Bill Clinton appeared at a recent gathering on that campus.
The Stanislaus Foundation, a nonprofit "auxiliary" organization that raises funds for its host campus, points to a court decision concluding that such auxiliary nonprofits are not subject to the California Public Records Act, and accordingly has declined to release the contract or otherwise reveal what it has agreed to pay Palin, which it says is subject to a nondisclosure agreement with the former governor.
Senator Yee carried a bill last year to bring CSU auxiliaries under the public records law, but the measure was vetoed. He has introduced a new bill this year to the same effect, hoping for a change of mind from Governor Schwarzenegger. SB 330 passed the Senate 37-1 in late January and is due to be heard in the Assembly Committee on Higher Education soon.
In commenting on the CalAware request letter, General Counsel Terry Francke noted,
For clarification, here's a distinction all the recent press reports have ignored. The CalAware request is to the university, not the foundation, and seeks inspection of all university records dealing with the Palin appearance, whether or not they include the Palin contract.
The selection of Palin as guest speaker for the university's 50th anniversary may seem odd to those who have noticed her cheerful indifference to learning (and even to the sovereignty of fact). But if she was chosen simply as a powerful draw to affluent ticket-buyers, and if this decision was that of the foundation, pursued, as it insists, with a special donation for that very purpose, and not with assets that otherwise might have gone to the university, then I see no great public interest in knowing the details of her contract.
What our request may determine, however, is just how consulted and involved university officials have been, if at all, in arranging this appearance, given the suspicions voiced by some that the foundation's independence is a sham and that it is little more than a sock puppet of the university administration. Evidence that that is the case would provide one more reason, and perhaps the most compelling one, why Sen. Yee's revived bill to subject these foundations to the California Public Records Act is entirely justified.