Cal State Stanislaus president says documents stolen, welcomes attorney general inquiry
The president of Cal State Stanislaus said Wednesday he believes that documents relating to a fundraising appearance by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin were stolen and given to students to stoke controversy over the upcoming event.
President Hamid Shirvani also revealed that he has asked Palin to release information about her speaking fee to cool some of the heat that has generated threats of a lawsuit, accusations from a state senator and questions from California’s attorney general. The former vice presidential candidate has yet to respond, Shirvani said.
The San Joaquin Valley university is investigating how parts of Palin’s draft contract got into the hands of students who then turned them over to state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who has been highly critical of the university about the visit.
The action comes a day after California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown expanded an inquiry into whether the university and an affiliated foundation violated the state Public Records Act after refusing Yee’s request for documents related to Palin’s compensation and other aspects of her June 25 appearance. Brown said he would also look at whether the university had illegally sought to discard the documents.
In a Tuesday news conference attended by Yee, students said they found the documents, including parts of Palin’s contract, in a campus dumpster. But university officials said the documents were the only ones missing from the personal recycling bin of Susana Gajic-Bruyea, executive director of the Cal State Stanislaus Foundation.
Police at the campus in Turlock, southeast of Modesto, are looking into whether someone took the documents from Gajic-Bruyea’s office bin, Shirvani said.
Yee and other open-government advocates are pressing for more transparency from foundations like that at Cal State Stanislaus and other nonprofits affiliated with public universities. The senator is sponsoring legislation, SB 330, that would require those groups to adhere to California’s Public Records Act.
The nonprofits argue that because they are private organizations, the state law doesn’t apply to them. Cal State Stanislaus Foundation President Matt Swanson has said that no public funds are being used for Palin's compensation and that the Speakers Bureau requires that the financial terms remain confidential.
Shirvani said that he welcomed Brown’s inquiry and that the school had nothing to hide. But he accused the attorney general and Yee of engaging in ideologically motivated “political theater.”
“These are bad economic times, and this is a fundraiser with a good possibility of raising a net $200,000 for our students which are desperately needed,” Shirvani said in his first extensive comments about the matter. “Why is it a problem to bring Gov. Palin to a community where they like her? Sen. Yee is using us as a political pawn, and it is so very unfair.”
Yee disputed that characterization.
“The senator has been fighting for open government all of his career,” said chief of staff Adam Keigwin. “There does seem to be more public interest because of Palin’s celebrity, but that is not the senator’s motivation.”
Shirvani said Palin’s speech is expected to raise more money than any single fundraiser in the past. It will be held in the university cafeteria, and there will be seating at the tables for about 300 people; tickets are $500. But he said the campus foundation is footing the estimated $200,000 to $250,000 bill for the event. The university will charge the foundation for use of the space, food, security and other expenses.
-- Carla Rivera