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Attorney General to investigate CSU Stanislaus Foundation
Shredded documents found in university Dumpster
Palin Sarah
Shortly after announcing that former vice-presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin would be speaking at CSU Stanislaus’ 50th Anniversary Gala, State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) started a campaign to release documents regarding her visit. - photo by Photo Contributed
Attorney General to investigate CSU Stanislaus Foundation
Shredded documents found in university Dumpster
State Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced Tuesday that the non-profit California State University, Stanislaus Foundation will be investigated for allegedly dumping documents related to former vice-presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s upcoming fundraiser at the campus.
“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 investigation comes as the result of amateur sleuthing performed by CSU Stanislaus students Alicia Lewis, 26, and Ashli Briggs, 23, both Political Science majors, and about five of their friends.
According to Briggs, a friend phoned on Friday to inform her that “suspicious activity” was ongoing at the CSU Stanislaus Administration Building and that “administrators were destroying documents.” Briggs then called Lewis and five other friends to drive over to campus to investigate.
Upon arriving, Lewis said she saw numerous cars parked outside the Administration Building — despite the administration staff being furloughed on that day — and witnessed a student carrying a bag of garbage to a Dumpster. Lewis and Briggs examined the contents of the Dumpster and found shredded finance department documents dated March 28, mixed in with the unshredded pages 4 through 9 of a contract with the Washington Speakers Bureau.
According to State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who has been leading a campaign for the release of documents regarding Palin’s visit, the find is a “smoking gun” which clearly indicates the CSU Stanislaus Foundation — a non-profit entity that oversees private gifts to CSU Stanislaus — is “inextricably intertwined” with the university. He said the intermixing of the documents found indicates the foundation is operated by taxpayer-funded CSU Stanislaus employees, and should be subject to the California Public Records Act.
“I never thought that I was going to have to relive Watergate again, but to some extent this is our little Watergate in the State of California,” Yee said.
The contract found does not specifically include Palin’s name, nor does it include the amount to be paid to the unnamed speaker. But Palin is represented by the Washington Speakers Bureau, and dates, time, and location, appear to point to Palin’s June 25 appearance at the University’s 50th Anniversary Gala fundraiser.
Among the stipulations of the contract available in the five pages found were “Round-trip, first class commercial air travel for two between Anchorage, Alaska and event city,” “a one-bedroom suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel” including a “laptop computer and printer (fully stocked with paper) and high speed Internet” and “all meals and incidentals.” The contract goes as far as to mandate the availability of “bendable straws.”
CSU Stanislaus and Foundation staff members were not available to comment on Tuesday, but issued statements denying wrongdoing.
“There is generally some staff working on campus on furlough Fridays,” said Russ Giambelluca, California State University, Stanislaus vice president of Business and Finance. “That said, we should be clear that no one has been instructed to destroy vital documents on anyone’s behalf.”
The Attorney General’s investigation will also examine whether the Foundation is spending its money on CSU Stanislaus programs and student services, per its stated objective. The Foundation has assets of more than $20 million, and spends more than $3 million each year on University endeavors.
“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,” said Matt Swanson, Stanislaus Foundation Board president. “The foundation is a 501(c)3 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.”

Foundation’s Public Records Act compliance also questioned
Tuesday’s announcement follows an investigation begun last week into whether the CSU Stanislaus Foundation violated the California Public Records Act.
Yee, who brought the investigation forward to the Attorney General, argues that the law obligates the university to reveal Palin’s speaking fee for her June 25 appearance at the University’s 50th Anniversary Gala fundraiser.
Palin’s speaking engagements have garnered as much as $100,000 in the past. An ABC News report estimates that Palin has earned $12 million since July through speaking engagements, book deals and television contracts.
The university has denied Public Records Acts petitions filed by Yee and Carmichael-based non-profit Californians Aware, stating it has no knowledge of Palin’s fee. The university argues that the Gala has been organized and fully funded by the non-profit CSU Stanislaus Foundation.
“The records requested are those of an auxiliary organization and … are not subject to the Public Records Act,” Swanson said in response to Yee’s request. “The Washington Speakers Bureau requires that the financial terms of speaker appearances remain confidential, and there is a non-disclosure clause in the agreement.
“For both reasons, the Foundation cannot provide the documents you request. 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.”
A 2001 state appeals court regarding a similar case at California State University, Fresno found that the Fresno State Association — an analog of the Foundation — was not subject to the Public Records Act.
That ruling did, however, require Fresno State — which was aware of the information sought — to release the particulars of the situation. Under state law, public entities may not enter into the sort of non-disclosure agreement as found in the Foundation’s contract with Palin.
Yee is currently sponsoring a state Senate Bill clarifying that campus foundations and auxiliary organizations are subject to the Public Records Act. The bill has passed the Senate, and awaits action by the Assembly.
Yee says the sharing of staff, facilities and resources between the Foundation and CSU Stanislaus creates an “inextricable link” between the two entities — and that the Public Records Act should be in force.
“There is not a fine line or even a blurry line between the foundation and the public university; there is absolutely no line,” Yee said.
The chairman of the Foundation board is CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani, and three other board members are university employees. Foundation offices are housed within the campus administration building, and are staffed by university employees. The Foundation Web site is hosted at the taxpayer-funded site.
“Imagine the precedent of allowing state-funded public officials to claim complete immunity from any and all transparency and oversight under the guise of ‘volunteering’ for a non-profit entity that performs similar governmental functions,” Yee wrote in his Public Records Act request.
CalAware’s March 31 Public Records Act requested, “all university records, other than those specifically prepared for public release, concerning the planned appearance of Sarah Palin as guest of honor at the University’s 50th Anniversary Gala.”
Campus Compliance Officer Gina B. Leguria responded on April 6 that CSU Stanislaus had “no documents that are responsive to” CalAware’s request.
On Wednesday, Yee’s office released a copy of a March 29 e-mail that he says should have been released in response to that request.
The memo, penned by Susana Gajic-Bruyea, vice president for University Advancement and executive officer of the Foundation Board of Directors, was sent to a faculty and staff mailing list. In the e-mail, Gajic-Bruyea attempts to “clarify rumors” about the event, reiterating the event is a Foundation run, privately financed, fund-raising event.
“The university’s claim of no documentation was inconceivable and now there is a smoking gun,” Yee said. “What other documents and correspondence are they hiding? I am immediately requesting the Attorney General to investigate this violation of the public trust.”
CSU Stanislaus spokesperson Eve Hightower said the e-mail was not provided in response to the Public Records Act request because it was specifically prepared for public release — exactly the sort of document that CalAware did not request.
“It was circulated to staff, faculty, student leadership and meant to be shared with anyone,” Hightower wrote in an e-mail to the Journal.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.