California State University, Stanislaus, should have disclosed more information about Sarah Palin's June visit, a judge has ruled.
Though a private nonprofit that raises money for the school organized the speech, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne said Monday that it was clear from an e-mail that CSU Chancellor Charles Reed knew Palin was being paid $75,000, and the university had documents related to the event.
CalAware, the advocacy group that sued the school for details about Palin's speaking contract, announced the decision Wednesday. It has argued that those documents should be open to the public.
The contract, negotiated between the Washington Speakers Bureau — Palin's agent — and the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, included a confidentiality clause. The university disclosed her fee after her speech.
CalAware quoted Beau- chesne as writing: "The reasonable inference from the evidence produced is that the university, in its official capacity, has 'used' the contract between the Washington Speakers Bureau in the conduct of the public's business; therefore, said contract is also a public record and should have been produced."
It's not clear what impact Beauchesne's ruling will have, since the terms of the contract already are public. He qualified that the nonprofit is a private group, but ruled that the document was public because it was used by public employees.
"This ruling upholds California citizens' right to maintain oversight and control of their government," CalAware attorneys Kelly Aviles, Dennis Winston and Terry Francke said in a joint statement. "We are hopeful that this will prompt CSU to re-evaluate the way in which it handles public records requests in the future."
University spokeswoman Eve Hightower said late Wednesday that the university will comply with the order.
"The ruling recognizes that auxiliaries are nonprofits and not subject to the Public Records Act," she said in an e-mail.
Union report issued simultaneously
CalAware's announcement came the same day a professors union issued a report that cites problems with mixing public and private funds at the foundations that support California State University campuses.
The report is based on minutes from a series of closed-door meetings of CSU executives that a political researcher for the union said she discovered online.
Minutes from a May 2010 meeting of the university's top business officials say they were trying to "clean up any mess before it gets to be bigger."
"There continue to be findings from the internal auditors that some campuses have monies held inappropriately by auxiliary organizations. The finding is that funds should be moved to the state side," the minutes say.
That's not the case at CSU, Stanislaus, Hightower said. Though the foundation does use university resources, including facility rental and staff time, it pays for them.
"At CSU, Stanislaus, the foundation has a history of compensating the university in a timely manner." That means within 30 days of the billing, she said.
The faculty union has been fighting to bring more public scrutiny to CSU foundations and other auxiliary organizations that are considered private entities but are closely affiliated with the public colleges. Such organizations hold about 20 percent of CSU's budget and are typically in charge of commercial practices on the campuses, from real estate deals to fund-raising events.
But many have been caught spending money inappropriately — including an audit this year that said CSU, Sacramento's auxiliary should not have paid for remodeling the university president's kitchen.
Last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill the union sponsored that would have subjected the auxiliary organizations to the California Public Records Act. A second version of San Francisco state Sen. Leland Yee's bill, SB 330, has passed both houses and is on the governor's desk.
Stephen Filling, an accounting professor at CSU, Stanislaus, said he is hopeful the bill will get signed this year because it includes some changes the governor wanted, including allowing anonymous donations of less than $500.
"I've been trying to figure out what the point of having these foundations is," he said, wondering why universities can't raise money on their own rather than using foundations.
Palin controversy began in April
Controversy arose at CSU, Stanislaus, in April when the foundation would not release the amount it paid Palin, citing a confidentiality clause in her contract. Because the contract was with the university's private foundation, campus officials had said they didn't have any documents related to the event.
The former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate'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 campus' 50-year history.
Questions raised about the Palin event resulted in an investigation by Attorney General Jerry Brown, who found no wrongdoing but said that "the foundation's accounting procedures were inadequate."
Hightower pointed out that neither the attorney general's investigation nor Wednesday's report accused any foundation of misappropriating money, and that the university already was working on improving its record-keeping.
"No one is talking about tax money or student fees being held by the auxiliary," she said.
But money does flow back and forth between auxiliary and university accounts.
"Publicly, the CSU administration insists that the funds held in these organizations are privately raised and are not taxpayer dollars. However, as these documents detail, there is actually a commingling of state and private dollars in the funds controlled by the auxiliaries," says the faculty association's report.
CSU officials responded by saying they were aware that some funds had been mixed and are working on fixing the problem.
Sacramento Bee staff writer Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this report.