Watchdog group sues Cal State Stanislaus over Palin contract

TURLOCK — A nonprofit government watchdog group has sued California State University, Stanislaus, and its private foundation over their failure to release records relating to Sarah Palin's campus appearance set for June.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court by Californians Aware, alleges that the documents should be made public because state employees used them in their jobs.

Several officers of the foundation — Executive Director Susana Gajic-Bruyea, Treasurer Russ Giambelluca and Chairman Hamid Shirvani — are university employees. Shirvani is president of the university; Gajic-Bruyea and Giambelluca are vice presidents.

The foundation, which signed a contract to bring Palin to Turlock for a fund-raiser celebrating the university's 50th anniversary, has not released records relating to her appearance. Foundation officials maintain that they don't have to release the amount she's being paid because the money came from private donors and the contract includes a confidenti- ality clause.

Foundation President Matt Swanson said Friday that attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit and he couldn't comment on its merits. "It's really unfortunate because we're a private organization designed to fund-raise," he said. "Ultimately, things like this take money away from the school."

Shirvani, who has not responded to several interview requests from The Bee, told the San Francisco Chronicle this week the foundation no longer would sign contracts with confidentiality clauses.

Swanson wouldn't go that far, but said, "We're sure going to look at that."

Though he believes the foundation does not have to disclose how it spends its money, Swanson said he wouldn't have a problem releasing Palin's fee if the contract allowed it.

"We've got nothing to hide with this contract," he said. "But you honor agreements you sign and you move forward."

Shirvani released a written statement late Friday in which he said the foundation would disclose the gala's net costs and revenue.

"Raising money to support university and student programs is exactly why the California Legislature established the ability for universities to create private foundations," he wrote.

CalAware's position is that operations of the university and its foundation are so entwined, the information must be public.

"All their material resources are those of the university," said Terry Francke, general counsel and founder of CalAware. "The law requires those officers to keep a close check on what the foundation is doing so that the policies of the CSU system will be complied with. In doing that, in pursuing that legal obligation, we believe these officers have made public documents of whatever records they have used to provide oversight of the foundation."

School: No Palin documents

In response to several California Public Records Act requests, the university has said it has no documents related to the Palin event. But some students said they found copies of a portion of the contract in a Dumpster on campus last week. University officials say those papers were taken from a recycling bin in Gajic-Bruyea's office.

The portion of the contract found didn't include the fee — Palin has commanded $100,000 at some speeches — but raised eyebrows with what it did contain: requirements including private jet transportation, regulation of autographs and photos, and bottled water with bendable straws.

Though Palin's scheduled appearance is controversial among those who think she's not an appropriate choice, Francke said his group doesn't care about that.

"Our purpose here is not to stop Ms. Palin from coming or anticipate anything she's going to say," he said. "In this case, we thought it might provide a good example of how closely entwined the foundation is with the university itself."

Swanson said the foundation is confident it has acted appropriately.

"We are in no way, shape or form worried about this contract," he said. "Bendy straws and all."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.

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