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.”


Tauscher helps broker Russia-U.S. arms deal



Former East Bay Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, now serving as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the Obama Adminstration, played a key role in the negotiation of a nuclear arms pact that would reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals by one-third, according to the Washington Post.

The Senate confirmed Tauscher to the post in June, and former California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi was elected as her replacement in the 10th District in a special election in September.

Read full Washington Pot article here.

The Post wrote, in part:

“Work must still be finished on the technical annexes to the treaty that lay out details of inspection and verification regimes, Ellen Tauscher, the U.S. under secretary of state for arms control, told reporters at the State Department.

She said officials hoped to finish those annexes by the end of April and then submit the full package to the Senate, where a vote of two-thirds is required for ratification.

“Our goal is to submit the treaty in the late spring and to seek ratification by the end of the year,” Tauscher said.

Tauscher insisted the new treaty placed no limits on U.S. missile defense systems, despite Russian suggestions last week that either side had the right to pull out of the offensive nuclear arms agreement if the other beefs up missile defenses.”


Upcoming political events: Pelosi, Newsom, Dunn

Nancy Pelosi Fresh from her win on health-care reform, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, will address the Commonwealth Club of California at noon on Tuesday, April 6 in the Peacock Court of the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel, at 1 Nob Hill in San Francisco. She’s expected to explain the financial ramifications of the new law and describe how it will affect the future of American health care. Tickets are available online at a cost of $20 for club members, $35 for non-members and $7 for students with valid ID, or for premium seating in the first few rows, $45 for members and $65 for non-members.

San Francisco Mayor and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom will chat with Commonwealth Club of California President & CEO Gloria Duffy at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 7 in the club’s offices on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco. Tickets are available online at a cost of $15 for club members and $25 for non-members, or for premium seating in the first few rows, $30 for members and $45 for non-members. Newsom today announced his endorsement by the California Teachers Association; on Friday he’d announced endorsements from Bay Area Assemblymembers Mary Hayashi, Jerry Hill, Jared Huffman, Ira Ruskin and Sandré Swanson.

Arthur RosenfeldRenowned physicist and energy efficiency expert Arthur Rosenfeld will speak on efficiency and conservation at the Lamorinda Democratic Club’s meeting on at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 8, in the Orinda Community Church, 10 Irwin Way. Rosenfeld began his physics career at Cal and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in the 1950s and chose to focus on energy conservation after the 1973 Arab oil embargo. In 1975 he founded the Center for Building Science for development of energy-efficiency standards and technologies; from 1994 to 1999 he served as Senior Adviser for the U. S. Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; and now, after 10 years on the California Energy Commission, he’s returning to the Berkeley Lab to continue working on energy efficiency projects. “The Rosenfeld” was recently proposed as the name for “electricity savings of 3 billion kilowatt-hours per year,” the amount needed to replace the annual generation of a 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant. Tickets to this event cost $5 per person but are free for students with valid ID.

Damon DunnThe Alameda County Republican Party will host a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, with GOP Secretary of State candidate Damon Dunn as the guest of honor from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 8, at a home in Piedmont; tickets cost $50, and reservations and directions are available by calling 510-665-7886. All Republican candidates for governor, state and local offices have been invited; California Republican Party Vice Chairman Tom Del Beccaro and Bay Area Regional Vice Chairman Morgan Kelley will attend.

(UPDATE @ 4:13 P.M. TUESDAY: The Alameda County GOP’s Jeff Wald tells me tickets for the event with Dunn are available online.)

The Northern California American Political Items Collectors show returns to Berkeley from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 10 in the Finnish Brotherhood Hall at 1970 Chestnut St. Thousands of new and vintage political buttons, posters and ephemera will be on sale from a variety of dealers; free appraisals are available. Admission costs $3, but is free for children or students with valid ID.


Campaign finance: Arnold, Anthem & much more

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California Dream Team ballot measure committee put $500,000 last Friday to the campaign for Proposition 14, the “top-two” open primary measure forced onto the ballot by state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, now Schwarzenegger’s nominee for lieutenant governor – and a measure wildly unpopular with both the Republican and Democratic establishments. A day earlier, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gave $257,328.40 to support the measure.

Palo Alto physicist Charles T. Munger Jr., son of Warren Buffett’s billionaire investor partner, last Tuesday put another $370,500 into his “Voters First Act for Congress” ballot measure, bringing his total out of pocket since October to just over $3.1 million. The proposed constitutional amendment would remove authority for setting California’s 53 Congressional district boundaries from the state Legislature, and would give that authority instead to the same Citizens Redistricting Commission that will soon be setting state Legislative boundaries (as required by 2008’s successful Proposition 11). He’s the only major donor to the campaign, and had until last Monday to gather and submit 694,354 registered voters’ valid signatures; county voter registrars and the Secretary of State’s office are now in the process of verifying them.

Anthem Blue Cross has been the target of a lot of political scorn since it announced insurance premium hikes of up to 39 percent a few months ago, but it’s still doling out money in Sacramento: The insurer last Thursday gave $2,000 to Garrett Yee, a Demcoratic primary candidate in the East Bay’s 20th Assembly District (the seat from which Alberto Torrico is term-limited out this year); $1,900 to incumbent Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana; and $1,000 to incumbent Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner put another $196,680 into his own campaign last Monday, bringing his total out-of-pocket spending to $19,396,680 so far.

Former state Senate President Pro Tem and current Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata’s Hope 2010 ballot measure committee last Tuesday put another $40,000 into Californians for a Cure, the committee formed by the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association to support the proposed tobacco-tax-for-cancer-research measure Perata helped author. This brings Hope 2010’s total ante to $320,000 so far. They have until May 17 to gather valid signatures from at least 433,971 registered voters in order to place the measure on November’s ballot.

Former state Controller and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Steve Westly gave $5,000 last Wednesday to Californians for a Fresh Start, the committee pushing a proposed ballot measure for November that would replace the separate eight- and six-year term limits on future state Senators and Assemblymembers, respectively, with a 12-year limit on combined service in either or both chambers. The lion’s share of that measure’s financial backing (at least about $871,000 so far) has come from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.

On the celebrity watch, television producer (“Alias,” “Lost”) and movie director (“Cloverfield,” “Star Trek”) J.J. Abrams and wife Katie McGrath of Pacific Palisades – who gave $50,000 last November to state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaign – gave $13,000 last week to Democratic state Attorney General candidate Kamala Harris’ campaign. Harris’ campaign also picked up $1,000 last Wednesday from San Francisco Giants former president and general managing partner Peter Magowan.


Campaign regulators warn Wilson



The California campaign finance watchdog agency has issued a warning letter to GOP Assembly District 15 candidate and San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson for contribution violations related to his unsuccessful 2008 campaign.

Wilson’s campaign treasurer had failed to report within 24 hours $475,000 in non-monetary contributions from the California Republican Party received on Sept. 17 and Sept. 23. Wilson’s campaign believed the contributions were classified as member communications from the party, which reported the expenditures on its disclosures. The Fair Political Practices Commission cited the immediate and full cooperation of Wilson’s campaign treasurer as the basis for writing a warning letter rather than issuing a fine.


More health insurance oversight? Poizner says no

The national healthcare reform just signed into law by President Barack Obama will be a huge boost for low-income Californians and people of color now suffering a disproportionate lack access to care, but further state-level reforms are urgently needed, according to the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based public policy and advocacy group.

The new law “doesn’t go far enough,” Greenlining health program manager Carla Saporta said in a news release. “We urgently need to pass state-level legislation such as AB 2578 so that we have the same sort of strict regulation of health insurance rates that California has now for auto insurance. Surely our health is at least as important as our cars.”

AB 2578 – which in a previous incarnation as AB 1554 passed the Assembly in 2007 but died in the Senate Health Committee, and as AB 1218 was nixed by the Assembly Health Committee last year – would force insurance companies to justify rate hikes to state regulators and require the state Department of Insurance or Department of Managed Care to approve any rate hikes over seven percent per year.

As Democrats declared victory this week in Washington, the Assembly Health Committee passed AB 2578 on Tuesday; Greenlining says continuing public anger over huge rate increases by insurers such as Anthem Blue Cross has helped the bill, too.

“Lack of health coverage is a true emergency for communities of color,” Saporta said. “Latinos, for example, have the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group, African-Americans are more than half again as likely to be uninsured as whites, and Asian and Pacific Islanders are more likely than whites to forego routine and preventative care due to costs. National health insurance reform will do a lot to help fix this, but the measure President Obama signed doesn’t do nearly enough to control insurance rates. Our communities urgently need the added protection that AB 2578 will give, and we hope the legislature will pass further consumer protections as well.”

Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento – a Democratic candidate for state Insurance Commissioner – is a driving force behind this bill. Republican gubernatorial candidate and current state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has said he favors better state regulation of insurers rather than the federal regulation contained in this week’s new health reform law. And Poizner has voiced outrage at Anthem Blue Cross’ rate hike.

But Poizner doesn’t support this bill, campaign spokesman Jarrod Agen said today.

“He believes that additional bureaucracy envisioned in the bill doesn’t deal with the fundamental problem of health care — rising medical costs. Steve is committed to lowering healthcare costs, but President Obama demonstrated with his healthcare bill that he is not the least bit interested in lowering healthcare costs for consumers,” Agen said in an e-mailed reply to my query. “Steve wants greater choice and competition in the healthcare marketplace through measures like reducing the number of mandates, increasing the use of electronic medical records, and giving consumers the freedom to purchase health insurance across state lines. He believes measures such as these, rather than more government incursion into our healthcare system, will make healthcare more affordable for California’s citizens.”