Yee: How much is CSU paying Palin to speak?

State Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, is asking the California State University Stanislaus Foundation to disclose whatever pay has been promised to former Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for her June 25 speaking engagement at the university.

Few if any students will be able to attend the event that has a per ticket cost of $500, Yee noted in his news release, which announced he sent a letter today to campus president and foundation chair Hamid Shirvani. From the letter:

The sensational nature of former Governor Palin’s political commentary, coupled with an ongoing book tour, has allowed her to charge top dollar for speaking engagements. As was reported in the media, her speaking appearances typically command $100,000 per event. To that end, I request the foundation to respond to the following issues: 1. Is the former governor being compensated by the CSUS Foundation in any form for her participation in the event on June 25th? If so, please describe the amount and nature of the compensation being awarded to the former governor. 2. Please disclose any contracts between the former governor and the CSUS Foundation involving the June 25 speaking engagement.

Yee noted the Foundation’s stated mission is to “to supplement services and funding provided by the state so that our students, our faculty and our community experience a margin of excellence that private support affords,” and he wants to know whether money is being diverted from students to pay Palin’s speaking fees.

“At a time when students are struggling to afford an education at CSU, I would hope that spending potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on a guest speaker for a black-tie gala would be low on the priority list,” he said in his news release. “Money that is spent on bringing an out-of-touch former politician to campus could be spent on scholarships and other financial assistance during these challenging budget times.”

Yee said CSU officials have argued that the contract with Palin prevents the foundation from disclosing how much they are spending for her appearance, yet a state law he authored in 2008 prohibits state or local agencies from allowing an outside entity to control the disclosure of information that is otherwise subject to the California Public Records Act (CPRA). The law states that regardless of any contract term to the contrary, a contract between a private entity and a state or local agency is subject to the same disclosure requirements as other public records.

Yee has another bill now pending, SB 330, which would clarify that campus foundations and auxiliaries must adhere to the CPRA. CSU and University of California foundations and auxiliaries often perform government functions and are staffed entirely by university administrators, yet despite their sole purpose being for the benefit of the schools, CSU and UC administrations argue that they are private entities that need not adhere to open government laws. The state Senate passed SB 330 on a 37-1 vote in January, and the bill now awaits a hearing in the Assembly Higher Education Committee. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year vetoed a similar bill that the Assembly had passed 76-0 and the state Senate had passed 35-1.

“It is time for CSU and UC administrators to stop acting like they are running private country clubs,” Yee said today. “These are public institutions that should embrace transparency and accountability.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Lee is the Chinese-American version of Alfred E. Newman. He grinds out legislation like Jimmy Dean grinds out sausage.

    He once introduced a bill mandating that all new construction in the state adhere to the principles of feng shui.

  • Mike F.

    Gee, Mr. Leland Yee, couldn’t you have made this same request without the statement of “out-of-touch former politician” in reference to former Gov. Palin? Why not request that all speaker fees from the past few years at all public universities be made public? Maybe we might discover that there are people both on the right and the left getting paid to give speeches at California universities. Transparency is something we need in all facets of government; in addition, we need our leaders to stop operating with partisan political speak when supposedly just doing their job. Geez, Mr. Yee, would you have ever made this same passionate request if it were someone else, say Michele Obama? Oh yeah, I wonder if she got paid for her speech at UC Merced last May.
    Shame on you Josh, you could’ve clarified that this is also a fundraising event for the CSU Stanislaus Foundation. The news release states, “Proceeds from this black-tie event will benefit the University.” Instead, you allow the piece to infer public funding. Per the news release, “The CSU Stanislaus Foundation is a 501(c)(3) entity, as identified by the Internal Revenue Service, for receipt, acknowledgment and oversight of private gifts to the University.” From their website, “The Foundation operates as an auxiliary of the University organized to supplement services and funding provided by the state so that our students, our faculty and our community experience a margin of excellence that private support affords.”

  • Josh Richman

    I don’t get your outrage, Mike – are you saying Palin’s compensation, or that of any other speaker at such a function, shouldn’t be a matter of public record?

    And shame on you, btw — it’s already on the record that Michelle Obama wasn’t paid for her commencement speech at UC-Merced – to which she was invited by the students of the graduating class – which although costly in other ways may have created a local economic windfall.

  • Mike F.

    No, I agree that if it is a publicly funded foundation (i.e within the Univ.), then it should be disclosed, as well as other speaker fees at other public universities. My point is that its a foundation that’s raising funds – if they pay her a huge fee, other than traditional expenses or that in-line with previous speakers, then they don’t stand to make much for the charitable fund. This would seem to defeat the purpose of the foundation I merely bring up Michelle Obama in contrast to what Leland Yee cries foul about. If this is not a publicly funded foundation, then perhaps we have no right to know how much she got paid.

    Could you have not provided more contnt in your article, much like that shown in the ABC news article you referenced. In only a matter of a few clicks was I able to divulge that the Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization and that this is a fundraising event. You state that a local economic windfall may have come from Ms. Obama’s visit, perhaps the CSU-Stanislaus Foundation stands to gain too, perhaps that is why that invited Ms. Palin.

  • JF

    Speaking of “out-of-touch” politicians, Yee had no problems when Al Gore took $100k+”travel, hotel, security, and per diem expenses” of PUBLIC money to speak at UC San Diego on May 21, 2007. The contract is up at smoking gun, if you want to read it.

    Private funds for a conservative? Yee wants to stop it.
    Public funds for a liberal? Yee signs the check.

  • John W.

    I think that these private foundations whose primary or exclusive purpose is to raise funds for public university or university athletic programs should have lots of transparency. However, Yee’s concern would have more credibility had he not waited for Sarah Palin to show up as a speaker.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Another Profile in Courage, SF-style. Senator Yee boldly speaks out on a red-hot issue, dear to the hearts of his constituency!