CSU auxiliary faces scrutiny over Palin visit

Critics of private organizations that support public universities have seized on Sarah Palin's upcoming appearance at California State University, Stanislaus, as the latest reason to expand California's public records law.

The California State University Stanislaus Foundation -- a nonprofit affiliated with the state college -- is bringing the former vice presidential candidate to its Turlock campus for a black-tie fundraiser on June 25. State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and the California Faculty Association, the union representing CSU professors, are incensed the foundation won't say how much it is paying Palin.

The professors' union is calling on Cal State Stanislaus and its foundation to share information about the cost of the event, including whether security is being covered by taxpayer dollars; how much time CSU employees devote to the event; and who gave money to bring Palin to Turlock.

University foundations aren't subject to California's public records law -- something Yee wants to change. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill he wrote last year that would have made such auxiliaries comply with the Public Records Act. Yee is trying again this year with SB 330, sponsored by California Faculty Association.

Nonprofit auxiliary organizations and the public universities they support are closely intertwined -- a relationship that has come under fire. Attorney General Jerry Brown is auditing Cal State Sacramento's auxiliary organization, University Enterprises Inc., which loaned the college president $233,000 at a 1.7% interest rate and gave him $27,000 to remodel his kitchen.

In the case of Cal State Stanislaus, Yee says, the foundation and the university are separate in name only. The foundation's office is in a university building and its Web page is hosted on the university's Web site. Tickets for the Palin event are being sold over a university phone line and media information is being handled by a university spokeswoman.

Matt Swanson, president of the CSU Stanislaus Foundation board of directors, did not return phone calls for this story but sent a prepared statement via university spokeswoman Eve Hightower.

"We want to be very clear that no public funds are being used to support this event," the statement says. "All funds used have been given for the purpose of putting on this event in order to raise money to benefit University programs and student services."

Hightower said the $500-a-head event is expected to raise $100,000 to $200,000, likely to go toward scholarships.

Palin's contract with the foundation dictates that her payment is confidential, Swanson has said. The Washington Speakers Bureau that represents Palin did not return calls.