SACRAMENTO–Students from California State University Stanislaus have uncovered several public documents pertaining to the upcoming controversial visit by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
The documents – including parts of the university’s speaking contract with Palin – were found in the dumpster outside the university’s administration building two days after Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Californians Aware were denied such public information by the university, resulting in a request of the Attorney General’s office to investigate.
On Friday, April 9, CSU student Ashli Briggs was informed that suspicious activity (specifically, document purging) was taking place within the administration building. Alicia Lewis and other students then found the documents after seeing several administrators’ cars in the parking lot on the university’s scheduled furlough day. Many of the public documents were shredded, presumably by university personnel.
“It is truly shocking and a gross violation of the public trust that such documents would be thrown away and destroyed during a pending investigation,” said Yee. “Found within the same files as regular university business were financial statements and documents of the CSU Stanislaus Foundation – demonstrating that the foundation is operated by taxpayer-funded employees within the university itself. How can they possibly claim that no tax dollars are being used for the Palin event when state employees are called in on their furlough day to help avoid public scrutiny?”
“Turning over this information to the Attorney General is important so that any wrongdoing can be addressed and prevented from reoccurring in the future,” said Lewis. “If this helps push for financial transparency on college campuses, then those of us involved know we did the right thing.”
“My hat is off to these students who had the courage to come forward and report such information,” said Yee. “They are to be commended for protecting our precious and limited public resources.”
Among the documents found intact where pages 4 through 9 of the university’s contract with Palin. While the actual compensation – suspected to be nearly $100,000 – cannot be found within the intact documents, pages 4 through 9 shows that Palin is expected to receive:
• “Round-trip, first class commercial air travel for two between Anchorage, Alaska and event city”
• Presumably for Palin’s guests, “full, unrestricted round-trip coach airfare for two between event city and lower 48 US States.”
• If the university chooses to use a private jet, “the Speaker, their traveling party and the plane crew will be the only passengers.”
• Ground transportation in both the originating city and the event city “will be by SUV(s) from a professionally licensed and insured car service.”
• “security arrangements as deemed necessary by [Washington Speakers Bureau] and the Speaker.”
• Accommodations are to include “a one-bedroom suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel” as well as a “laptop computer and printer (fully stocked with paper) and high speed internet” and “all meals and incidentals.”
• “For Q&A, the questions are to be collected from the audience in advance, pre-screened and a designated representative shall ask questions directly of the Speaker.”
• The contract also includes other stipulations regarding autographs, photographs, press releases, advertising, recording, lighting, bottled water and “bendable straws.”
Among the papers found shredded are documents dated as recently as March 2010, the same date as on the Palin contract.
Today, Lewis was submitting the documents to the Attorney General’s office to assist in their investigation regarding violation of the California Public Records Act (CPRA), and now potential tampering and destroying of evidence relevant to an ongoing investigation.
CSU Stanislaus Office of the President last week denied public records requests made by Yee and Californians Aware to disclose how much Palin is getting paid for an upcoming speaking engagement as well as documents and correspondence regarding the university’s 50th Anniversary Gala.
The responses from Campus Compliance Officer Gina Leguria state, “The University has no documents that are responsive to your request.”
CSU officials have often declared foundations as separate private entities even though the CSU Stanislaus Foundation is entirely located within the public university:
• the foundation chair is campus president Hamid Shirvani, a state employee who makes upwards of $300,000/year;
• the executive officer, the treasurer, and the secretary of the board are all employees of CSU Stanislaus;
• every staff member listed on the foundation website are CSU Stanislaus employees, with the exception of one;
• the foundation’s website and the Palin Gala website are located at the taxpayer-funded www.csustan.edu;
• the Palin fundraiser solicitation and information line is a university telephone number at the university advancement office;
• the foundation’s offices are housed within the campus administration’s building and fully staffed by university employees;
• the work of the foundation is conducted using CSU Stanislaus email accounts, telephones, computers and other taxpayer-funded resources.
“There is not a fine line or even a blurry line between the foundation and the public university; there is absolutely no line,” said Yee.
Prior to denying the CPRA request by Yee and Californians Aware, CSU Stanislaus officials stated that they could not release Palin’s compensation due to a confidentiality term in her contract. State law, however, specifically prohibits a state or local agency from allowing an outside entity to control the disclosure of information that is otherwise subject to the CPRA. In addition, a 2001 case involving Fresno State required the university to disclose documents they held regarding the operations of their foundation.
Several recent examples demonstrate the need for increased public oversight and accountability at public college and university foundations and auxiliary organizations:
• At Sonoma State, a $1.25 million loan issued to a former foundation board member two days after he resigned. He has since defaulted on that loan, which leaves less money in the foundation’s endowment for scholarships and other important causes.
• At Fresno State, a no-bid managing contract was given to a foundation member to build a theatre complex in which he held a financial interest.
• At San Francisco City College, a campus executive has been indicted for using money from the San Francisco City College Foundation for personal and political purposes.
• At San Jose/Evergreen Community College, the chancellor recently resigned after it was found she engaged in several financial improprieties at the foundation’s expense, including lavish travel, purchasing expensive art pieces, and even buying coffee and mints on her work credit card.
• Sacramento State recently acknowledged their campus is being audited by the Attorney General in relation to inappropriate expenditures of campus auxiliary money, including $200,000 to remodel the school president’s kitchen in 2007. Additionally at Sacramento State, $6.3 million of public funds was transferred to University Enterprises Inc., a campus auxiliary, to backfill losses from a property acquisition.
According to the CSU Chancellor’s Office, 20 percent of its $6.7 billion budget, or $1.34 billion, is held in their 87 auxiliaries and foundations.
“It is time for CSU and UC administrators to stop acting like they are running private country clubs,” said Yee. “These are public institutions that should embrace transparency and accountability, and not be finding creative ways to do the public’s business behind closed doors.”
This session, Yee is authoring SB 330 to clarify that campus foundations and auxiliary must adhere to the CPRA.