When it began, the ruckus over Sarah Palin’s speaking fee at the state university in Turlock – and the school’s attempts to keep it secret – had a comic undertone.
But matters are quickly becoming deadly serious for the educators at CSU Stanislaus who have been resisting pressure from state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to make public Palin's contract for a speech at a June fundraiser.
Now, Yee says he has proof that employees of the university have been shredding public documents about Palin’s speech. The lawmaker and the CSU students who found the evidence will take it to the attorney general's office in Sacramento today.
Photo by Bruce Tuten
"This is in fact a dark day for the CSU, particularly for the Stanislaus campus," Yee said at a press conference this morning. "To some extent, this is our little Watergate here in California."
In letters to Yee and to two First Amendment groups, CSU Stanislaus had claimed it has no relevant documents about the speech, which was booked by the university’s Stanislaus Foundation.
California Watch learned that Yee’s office was contacted last week by students who said they had seen university personnel taking bags of shredded documents from the offices occupied by the university foundation to the dumpster.
At the press conference today, student Alicia Lewis said that her friend, Ashli Briggs, had called her to say something suspicious was occurring at the administration building, which they expected to be closed on a furlough day. Lewis said she drove to the building with several people.
"We saw a student taking out garbage into the dumpsters," Lewis said, "and we started looking to see if we saw anything suspicious. We opened the dumpster and it had paper documents that were related to the university. ... After going through the documents, we be found pages 4-9 of the Sarah Palin contract, and it was mixed in with the university paperwork."
The students took pictures and retrieved some shredded documents and gave them to Yee.
Yee had already asked the attorney general’s office to investigate the university’s refusal to turn over documents on the issue. University President Hamid Shirvani has said Palin’s contract with the foundation required that her fee remain confidential. Yee thinks the school is paying her in excess of $100,000.
Officials who willfully refuse to disclose public documents can be prosecuted for misdemeanors.
Yee has said he had independently obtained a copy of one university document on the subject – an e-mail sent to everybody on campus to “clear up any confusion and extinguish rumors” about Palin’s speech, as its author, University Vice President Susana Gajic-Bruyea, put it. Gajic-Bruyea, who is also executive officer of the foundation, wrote that “no tax dollars” would be used to pay Palin.
Yee is deeply suspicious about that claim. But in the event, he says that e-mails should obviously have been disclosed in response to the records request. He said the Stanislaus Foundation is run by university employees, uses the campus computers and email accounts, is housed in university buildings, and should be subjected to the state's public records law.
But Matt Swanson, president of the foundation, said the government code exempts auxiliary organizations from the Public Records Act. He told the LA Times: "I can assure you that no public funds are being used to support this event. All funds used have been given for the express purpose of putting on this event in order to raise money to benefit university programs and student services."
The following document contains pages 4-9 of Palin's contract, including her requirements for private jet transportation and a bendable straw next to her unopened water bottle.