Cal State Stanislaus is exploiting a loophole in state law to keep secret the amount of money it’s paying Sarah Palin to deliver the keynote address at its 50th Anniversary in June. The ex-governor of Alaska typically charges more than $100,000 for speaking engagements. And public institutions normally have to disclose how they spend public funds. But a loophole in the law is allowing the public university in Turlock, just south of Modesto, to keep its deal with Palin under wraps. The Chron and the CoCo Times report that Palin’s contract for the speaking engagement requires that her fee not be disclosed.
Cal State Stanislaus was allowed to sign such an agreement because it’s paying Palin through its non-profit foundation, which is not subject to California’s open records law. It’s a secrecy problem that has spread throughout the state, as colleges and universities have become increasingly dependent on foundations to raise money and dole out public contracts that can be kept hidden — even though the foundations are usually run by college employees. CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani, for example, is also the chairman of the foundation that hired Palin. State Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco is sponsoring legislation to close the loophole.
Cal State Stanislaus is banking that Palin’s popularity in the conservative Central Valley will draw a huge crowd for the event, and raise more than enough money to offset whatever the foundation is paying her. However, unless Yee’s bill becomes law, we may never know whether the university’s expensive bet on Palin will pay off. And if the gamble doesn’t work out, then a foundation that is supposed to help struggling students will have wasted money on a right-wing charismatic crackpot who once claimed that health-care reform included “death panels.”