TURLOCK — State Attorney General Jerry Brown, who investigated the finances of the California State University, Stanislaus Foundation in the wake of controversy over Sarah Palin's appearance in June, said Friday he found no wrongdoing.
But the question of whether the university broke public records laws remains, and Brown's office did find some problems with the way the foundation manages its money.
The former Republican vice presidential candidate has generated intense reaction at many of her speeches across the country, and it was no different when the foundation announced she would speak on campus as part of the university's 50th anniversary gala.
Much of the controversy revolved around how much the foundation — an independent fund-raising organization that works out of the school's administrative offices — would pay Palin. The foundation said it couldn't say, based on a confidentiality clause in its contract with the Washington, D.C.-based speakers bureau that represents the former Alaska governor.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Palin's appearance June 25 raised about $473,000 and netted the campus more than $207,000 for scholarships, making it the most successful fund-raising event in the history of the 50-year-old campus. Last month, the foundation disclosed it paid her $75,000.
Brown launched an investigation into the foundation's financial records in April, after students claimed they found part of her contract in a campus Dumpster. Palin's fee wasn't listed, but travel arrangements and requirements for bendable straws generated widespread attention.
The students turned over the documents to state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who called on the university to release additional records and then claimed officials lied when they said they didn't have any.
Yee and others claimed the foundation used state-paid university staff in the negotiations with the speakers' bureau, meaning all communication and documents should be made public. The university countered that accommodations were made to reimburse the state for any staff time devoted to foundation tasks.
CalAware, a government watchdog group, sued the university. School officials later released hundreds of pages of documents, most of them related to media inquiries about Palin's appearance.
Yee initially asked Brown to look into whether the university had public records it should be required to disclose; Brown said Friday that investigation is suspended pending the outcome of the lawsuit in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Though the investigation found no financial misdeeds, Brown's office found that "the foundation's accounting procedures were inadequate, it failed to understand fully its duties and responsibilities under the law and it failed to implement its own auditor's recommendation to prepare a budget for all fund-raising events."
Brown's office said in a news release that the foundation has been working with an independent auditor to rectify these lapses.
"I feel like we've really found some vindication here," said Russ Giambellucca, vice president for business and finance at CSU, Stanislaus, and treasurer for the foundation. "We haven't misused funds. Hopefully, that restores some confidence that we're doing the right things."
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.