Attorney General Investigation of CSU Stanislaus Foundation, Shredded Sarah Palin Documents Make National News

Turlock, and more specifically CSU Stanislaus, is making national news due to university students finding shredded documents that appear to be part of the Sarah Palin contract many have requested trying to find out how much Palin is getting paid to speak at the CSU Stanislaus 50th Anniversary Gala to be held on June 25, 2010.
 
CSU Stanislaus and the Palin visit to Turlock has now made the LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Daily, EXTRA TV, ABC News, Fox News, CBS News, CNN, and even Anderson Cooper talked about the “bendable straws” Palin reportedly requested in part of the shredded documents found as her demands for when she is to speak here in Turlock.
 
 
Students from California State University Stanislaus have uncovered several public documents pertaining to the upcoming controversial visit by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
 
The documents – including parts of the university’s speaking contract with Palin – were found in the dumpster outside the university’s administration building two days after Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Californians Aware were denied such public information by the university, resulting in a request of the Attorney General’s office to investigate.
 
On Friday, April 9, CSU student Ashli Briggs was informed that suspicious activity (specifically, document purging) was taking place within the administration building.  Alicia Lewis and other students then found the documents after seeing several administrators’ cars in the parking lot on the university’s scheduled furlough day.  Many of the public documents were shredded, presumably by university personnel.
 
“It is truly shocking and a gross violation of the public trust that such documents would be thrown away and destroyed during a pending investigation,” said Yee.  “Found within the same files as regular university business were financial statements and documents of the CSU Stanislaus Foundation – demonstrating that the foundation is operated by taxpayer-funded employees within the university itself.  How can they possibly claim that no tax dollars are being used for the Palin event when state employees are called in on their furlough day to help avoid public scrutiny?”
 
 
CSU Stanislaus has responded to the accusations that employees were called in or instructed to destroy documents on their furlough day.
 
“There is generally some staff working on campus on furlough Fridays.  That said, we should be clear that no one has been instructed to destroy vital documents on anyone’s behalf,” stated CSU Stanislaus.
 
 
“Turning over this information to the Attorney General is important so that any wrongdoing can be addressed and prevented from reoccurring in the future,” said Lewis.  “If this helps push for financial transparency on college campuses, then those of us involved know we did the right thing.”
 
“My hat is off to these students who had the courage to come forward and report such information,” said Yee.  “They are to be commended for protecting our precious and limited public resources.”
 
Among the documents found intact where pages 4 through 9 of the university’s contract with Palin.  While the actual compensation – suspected to be nearly $100,000 – cannot be found within the intact documents, pages 4 through 9 shows that Palin is expected to receive:
 
• “Round-trip, first class commercial air travel for two between Anchorage, Alaska and event city”
• Presumably for Palin’s guests, “full, unrestricted round-trip coach airfare for two between event city and lower 48 US States.”
• If the university chooses to use a private jet, “the Speaker, their traveling party and the plane crew will be the only passengers.”
• Ground transportation in both the originating city and the event city “will be by SUV(s) from a professionally licensed and insured car service.”
• “security arrangements as deemed necessary by [Washington Speakers Bureau] and the Speaker.”
• Accommodations are to include “a one-bedroom suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel” as well as a “laptop computer and printer (fully stocked with paper) and high speed internet” and “all meals and incidentals.”
• “For Q&A, the questions are to be collected from the audience in advance, pre-screened and a designated representative shall ask questions directly of the Speaker.”
• The contract also includes other stipulations regarding autographs, photographs, press releases, advertising, recording, lighting, bottled water and “bendable straws.”
 
Among the papers found shredded are documents dated as recently as March 2010, the same date as on the Palin contract.
 
Today, Lewis was submitting the documents to the Attorney General’s office to assist in their investigation regarding violation of the California Public Records Act (CPRA), and now potential tampering and destroying of evidence relevant to an ongoing investigation.
 
CSU Stanislaus Office of the President last week denied public records requests made by Yee and Californians Aware to disclose how much Palin is getting paid for an upcoming speaking engagement as well as documents and correspondence regarding the university’s 50th Anniversary Gala.
 
The responses from Campus Compliance Officer Gina Leguria state, “The University has no documents that are responsive to your request.”
 
CSU officials have often declared foundations as separate private entities even though the CSU Stanislaus Foundation is entirely located within the public university:
 
• the foundation chair is campus president Hamid Shirvani, a state employee who makes upwards of $300,000/year;
• the executive officer, the treasurer, and the secretary of the board are all employees of CSU Stanislaus;
• every staff member listed on the foundation website are CSU Stanislaus employees, with the exception of one;
• the foundation’s website and the Palin Gala website are located at the taxpayer-funded www.csustan.edu;
• the Palin fundraiser solicitation and information line is a university telephone number at the university advancement office;
• the foundation’s offices are housed within the campus administration’s building and fully staffed by university employees;
• the work of the foundation is conducted using CSU Stanislaus email accounts, telephones, computers and other taxpayer-funded resources.
 
“There is not a fine line or even a blurry line between the foundation and the public university; there is absolutely no line,” said Yee.
 
Prior to denying the CPRA request by Yee and Californians Aware, CSU Stanislaus officials stated that they could not release Palin’s compensation due to a confidentiality term in her contract.  State law, however, specifically prohibits a state or local agency from allowing an outside entity to control the disclosure of information that is otherwise subject to the CPRA.  In addition, a 2001 case involving Fresno State required the university to disclose documents they held regarding the operations of their foundation.
 
Senator Leland Yee says that this is “a dark day for the CSU, particularly the Stanislaus campus.”
 
CSU Stanislaus Foundation President Matt Swanson responded by saying “It’s a dark day when an entity that’s sole purpose is to raise money for student services and University programs is falsely accused of wrong-doing. The foundation is a 501c3 that raises money for the University. Our sole aim is to raise money for University programs and student services. Given declining state support for higher education, private fundraisers are more vital than ever.”
 

Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today that he has launched a broad investigation into the California State University Stanislaus Foundation to include an examination of its finances and the alleged dumping of documents into a university dumpster.
 
This action follows an inquiry Brown began last week into whether the CSU Stanislaus Foundation violated the California Public Records Act. On April 7, State Senator Leland Yee asked Brown to investigate the refusal of California State University Stanislaus to turn over records, under the Public Records Act, pertaining to the $500-a-plate June 25 speaking engagement of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin at the university’s 50th anniversary gala. Palin’s compensation for speaking at the CSU Stanislaus gala hasn’t been disclosed, but she earned $100,000 for speaking in February at a Tea Party convention in Nashville.
 
The expanded inquiry will seek to determine whether the foundation, which has assets of more than $20 million, is spending its money to benefit the campus, as it promises donors, the university and the public. The CSU Stanislaus Foundation spends more than $3 million each year on university endeavors. The Attorney General is asking university officials to preserve foundation documents.
 
“We are taking this action to make sure that the money raised goes toward the intended educational purposes and not a dollar is wasted or misspent,” Brown said, “Prudent financial stewardship is crucial at a time in which universities face vastly decreased funding and increased student fees.”
 
The Attorney General oversees charitable organizations to make sure that they comply with the law. Brown’s office has recently sought records of several foundations following allegations of improprieties including a no-bid contract to a foundation board member, a loan — with a large loss — to a former foundation board member, a $1.5 million-dollar loss because of bad debts, a questionable real estate deal and a $200,000 low-interest loan to a university president.
 
The university foundations provide crucial financial help to state universities, supplementing student fees and state support for scholarships, academic programs, buildings and operating expenses.
 
Brown said his office would also review documents obtained from Yee today, including part of Palin’s speech contract, which students say they plucked out of a dumpster near the CSU Stanislaus administration building. Investigators will first attempt to determine whether the documents are authentic and how they ended up in the dumpster.
 
“This is not about Sarah Palin,” Brown said. “She has every right to speak at a university event, and schools should strive to bring to campus a broad range of speakers. The issues are public disclosure and financial accountability in organizations embedded in state-run universities. We’re not saying any allegation is true, but we owe it to the taxpayers to thoroughly check out every serious allegation.”
 
The assets controlled by 95 auxiliary bodies and foundations associated with the entire CSU system amount to $1.34 billion, according to the CSU chancellor’s office. UC system foundations control another $4 billion in assets.
 
The Attorney General’s investigation is being conducted by its Charitable Trusts Section, which works with charities to make sure they comply with the law and their articles of incorporation. The Attorney General is also authorized to bring legal actions against charities if they misuse funds under their control.

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