SACRAMENTO — Sarah Palin typically generates controversy with what she says.
Now the former vice presidential candidate is creating a buzz over how much she'll make at a black-tie gala she plans to headline at Cal State Stanislaus.
How much she is commanding for her June 25 appearance at the $500-per-ticket affair won't be known because her contract with the CSU Stanislaus Foundation stipulates secrecy. It's the secrecy that rankles state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who is calling for full disclosure.
"The CSU should immediately disclose how much money is being diverted from students to pay Sarah Palin's exorbitant speaking fees," Yee said in a statement accompanying a letter to the university's president, Hamid Shirvani.
"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.
Yee described Palin as "an out-of-touch former politician" and said the money should be spent on scholarships and financial aid.
No university money, however, is being used for the event, and all proceeds — the foundation expects to raise between $100,000 and $200,000 — will go into university programs, such as scholarships and chair endowments, said Matt Swanson, the president of the CSU Stanislaus Foundation.
The foundation's contract with Palin prohibits it from
"I understand (Yee's) desire to have transparency at the foundation level — I want it, too," Swanson said. "But we do believe that the contact is the contract. It's not something we need to talk about."
A reception, five-course dinner, dancing and Palin's speech will be part of the gala commemorating the university's 50th anniversary.
"Our No. 1 purpose is to raise money for the university, and to bring in somebody who has the ability to create excitement," Swanson said. "Even people who don't agree with her are going to come to the event."
As legally independent arms of universities, foundations are not required to adhere to the state's Public Records Act, which enables the public to request documents.
Under a bill that Yee wrote, SB330, now awaiting action in the Assembly after being passed 37-1 in the Senate, university foundations would fall under the authority of the state's public records law. The bill is intended to clarify a 2008 law Yee sponsored that requires public entities to disclose financial information, regardless of agreements struck with private parties.
"More and more of government responsibilities of CSUs are being shifted to foundations," Yee said in an interview. "Part of the reason CSUs are doing that is to escape the sunlight of any scrutiny whatsoever. They claim they're outside the purview of (public records act) so they can conduct business in secrecy."
CSU and University of California foundations often perform government functions and are staffed by university administrators, Yee said. The university's Advancement Office of Communications and Public Affairs, for instance, procured Palin's appearance for the foundation, Swanson said.
Yee noted that the CSU Stanislaus president, Hamid Shirvani, is also the foundation's chairman.
"These two institutions are not separate," he said.
Contact Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101.