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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.”