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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sarah Palin Contract Must Be Made Public, Judge Rules

Posted By on Thu, Aug 26, 2010 at 7:15 AM


click to enlarge Lots of legal 'verbiage' has been expended...
  • Lots of legal 'verbiage' has been expended...
A Stanislaus County Judge this week ruled that the state university system broke the law by obscuring how much money -- and how many bendy straws -- it shelled out to lure Sarah Palin to CSU Stanislaus for a June fundraiser.

Judge Roger Beauchesne issued the declaratory judgment sought by CalAware, a nonprofit government transparency advocate that sued California State University Stanislaus earlier this year. The judge claimed the school violated the state's Public Records Act by refusing to disclose Palin's contract; he ordered CSU Stanislaus to turn it over -- and pay CalAware's legal tab.

Palin's appearance at the Turlock campus hit the news in March when San Francisco's state Sen. Leland Yee requested her speaking fee -- and was rebuffed. The story blew up into "Palingate," however, after the university claimed it couldn't respond to public records requests for the contract between Stanislaus and the former Republican vice presidential candidate because such documents didn't exist -- but a pair of students found a contract with an unknown speaker needing a flight from Alaska in a dumpster among papers university officials had been shredding on a furlough Friday. Other highlights on the contract recovered from the dumpster:

  • Stipulations for "Round-trip, first class commercial air travel for two between Anchorage, Alaska and event city"
  • Requirements for "full, unrestricted round-trip coach airfare for two between event city and lower 48 US States."
  • If

    the university were to hire a private jet, "the Speaker, their

    traveling party and the plane crew will be the only passengers."

  • The contract

    also includes other stipulations regarding autographs, photographs,

    press releases, advertising, recording, lighting, bottled water and

    "bendable straws."


It was subsequently leaked that Pailin earned $75,000 for the speech, and the school purportedly shelled out $18,000 in accommodations and other expenses. CSU Stanislaus officials claim they still made money on the deal, bringing in $450,000 and spending $190,000.

Now, however, the math will be clear, as Beauchesne found university officials were familiar with the particulars of the contract, and ordered the papers disclosed.

Per his ruling: "The reasonable inference from the evidence produced is that the University, in its official capacity, has 'used' the contract between the Washington Speaker's Bureau (with Ms. Palin and the CSU Foundation) in the conduct of the public's business; therefore, said contract is also a public record and should have been produced to Petitioner."


The school told the San Francisco Chronicle it would comply with the judge's order. SF Weekly has placed a call to CalAware querying how large a legal tab CSU Stanislaus -- and, therefore, the taxpayers -- are now stuck with. (After paying that bill, its own legal tab, and Palin's hefty expenses, it remains to be seen if the university finished in the black). 

Throughout "Palingate," the ostensibly privately funded university booster group hosting the event claimed it was not covered under the California Public Records Act -- and, in fact, Beauchesne's ruling does nothing to overturn university auxiliary foundations' shielded status. 

Earlier this decade, the Fresno Bee sued

Fresno State University's booster group, hoping to use the California

Public Records Act to obtain documents tying donors to the school

auxiliary organization to preferential leases for suites at the

school's sports arena. In that case, a judge ruled that booster groups are

not subject to public records requests.

It was recently disclosed, however, that CSU so commingles its public and private funds that it cannot tell them apart. A Yee bill that would subject university booster groups to the public records act has passed both houses of the legislature and will soon garner the governor's yea or nay.

And, finally, if you think San Francisco voters might be generous toward a an oft-rumored mayoral candidate who scored a high-profile victory over state secrecy and Sarah Palin -- you're right. You betcha.

Update, 11:55 a.m.: Terry Francke, the general counsel for CalAware, said he doesn't know yet how much was spent fighting this case. He estimates it was in the "tens of thousands." As for how much CSU Stanislaus spent, that, he notes, is a matter of public record.

SF Weekly is preparing a public records request.  

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" is a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly, which he has written for since 2007. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers... more

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