Evidence that University Shredded Documents Showing Expenses for Sarah Palin Speech

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A controversy has arisen involving Sarah Palin’s speech at CSU-Stanislaus and university efforts to avoid disclosure of documents showing how much money they spent to bring the controversial former Vice Presidential Candidate to their campus. 

In an effort to get disclosure, Senator Leland Yee asked that the university disclose all documents related to the Sarah Palin event.  CSU-Stanislaus responded that they had no documents related to that request.

However, two days after the Senator and Californians Aware were denied their request for public information, several students found in the dumpster documents including pages 4-12 of Sarah Palin’s contract.  According to the students, these documents which were intact were mixed in with other documents that apparently had been shredded on a furlough Friday by University Officials.  As a result, Senator Yee has now referred the case to Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office for investigation.

“The university’s claim of no documentation was inconceivable and now there is a smoking gun,” said Senator Yee last week.  “What other documents and correspondence are they hiding?  I am immediately requesting the Attorney General to investigate this violation of the public trust.”

On Tuesday, Senator Yee held a press conference at the state capitol along with two students who found the documents and Terry Francke, executive director of Californians Aware.

The Senator called this “a dark day” for the CSU-Stanislaus campus.  “I never thought that I would have to re-live Watergate again,” he said.  “This is an issue of accountability and transparency.  It is an issue that is very fundamental to our democracy.”

Several weeks ago the Senator said they found out that Sarah Palin was going to visit the CSU-Stanislaus campus for the sole purpose of raising money for scholarships.  He said that these were laudable goals.  However, the Senator said that they wanted to know what the terms and conditions were of this speaking appearance.  “The response that we got from the CSU Foundation was that it was none of your business.”

As a result they put in a California Public Records Act request for information.  “The response,” the Senator said, “was that we don’t have any info on that particular issue.  CSU said that they had no information whatsoever.”

However, on furlough Friday, the Senator heard from the two ladies in attendance, Ashli Briggs and Alicia Lewis that in fact not only were individuals around, but they were shredding and throwing away documents that the unversity claimed they did not have.

“It is truly shocking and a gross violation of the public trust that such documents would be thrown away and destroyed during a pending investigation,” said Senator Yee.  “Found within the same files as regular university business were financial statements and documents of the CSU Stanislaus Foundation – demonstrating that the foundation is operated by taxpayer-funded employees within the university itself.  How can they possibly claim that no tax dollars are being used for the Palin event when state employees are called in on their furlough day to help avoid public scrutiny?”

Ashli Briggs said that she was informed that suspicious activity, specifically, document purging was taking place within the administration building on a furlough Friday, April 9, when people were not supposed to be at work.  “I was informed that administrators were destroying documents and once I found that out, I found it very alarming, I notified Alicia [Lewis].”

Alicia Lewis said that she was notified by Ms. Briggs of the administrator’s activities.  “Myself and several other students decided to look around and see what was taking place.”  When the five of them pulled up, they noticed several staff cars parked outside of the administrative building and saw activity inside the closed and gated building.  They saw a student taking out garbage and they walked around to see what they could find.

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In the dumpster they found a number of documents relating to the university and they took the documents out and in it was all the university paperwork mixed in with paperwork from the foundation.  “After going through the documents we ended up finding pages four through nine of the Sarah Palin contract, the school said it didn’t have.  It was mixed right in with the university paperwork that we pulled out of the dumpster.”

Ms. Lewis said that they have chosen to turn in the paperwork to the Attorney General’s Office for investigation.  “[We’re] turning over this information to the Attorney General is important so that any wrongdoing can be addressed and prevented from reoccurring in the future,” said Alicia Lewis.  “If this helps push for financial transparency on college campuses, then those of us involved know we did the right thing.”

“My hat is off to these students who had the courage to come forward and report such information,” said Senator Yee.  “They are to be commended for protecting our precious and limited public resources.”

He also vowed to hold officials at the university accountable if there were any attempts at retaliation against the two students who came forward or the other three who were involved in locating the documents.

CSU officials declared that the foundation is a private entity and therefore exempt from the public records act.

Terry Francke is the executive director of Californians Aware, an organization that focuses on first amendment issues and the freedom of information.  They had also submitted a request for the documents relating to Sarah Palin’s visit and had been denied.  The response was that they had records responsive to their request.

He said, “On a furlough Friday, people in the financial services office of the university [were found] sorting through documents, shredding some, and discarding others.” 

He hopes to get a court decision “that regards these documents as university documents and not simply foundation documents, because there’s such a tight interlacing of the functions.  Not just the practical day-to-day functions, but the official duties of the university officers and the operation of the foundation.”

He continued, “We think that particularly under proposition 59, which requires access laws to be read broadly, that the foundation by and large, is a state agency subject to the California public records act.”

In a release from Senator Yee’s office they cite the fact that the chair of the foundation is the campus president Hamid Shrivani, a state employee who makes upwards of $300,000 per year.  Moreover the officers are all employees of the university as is every staff member listed on the foundation website with one exception.  The foundation’s website is located at the taxpayer-funded www.csustan.edu. 

Furthermore, the Palin fundraiser solicitation and information line is a university telephone number at the university advancement office.  The foundation’s offices are housed within the campus administration’s building and fully staffed by university employees.  The foundation board meetings are held at the campus using public resources.  Finally, the work of the foundation is conducted using CSU Stanislaus email accounts, telephones, computers and other taxpayer-funded resources.

As Senator Yee said last Thursday, “There is not a fine line or even a blurry line between the foundation and the public university; there is absolutely no line.”

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Senator Yee said they still do not know how much Sarah Palin received but estimated it was upwards of $100,000.  Among the documents found intact where pages 4 through 9 of the university’s contract with Palin.  While the actual compensation – suspected to be nearly $100,000 – cannot be found within the intact documents, pages 4 through 9 shows that Palin is expected to receive:

•   “Round-trip, first class commercial air travel for two between Anchorage, Alaska and event city”
•   Presumably for Palin’s guests, “full, unrestricted round-trip coach airfare for two between event city and lower 48 US States.”
•   If the university chooses to use a private jet, “the Speaker, their traveling party and the plane crew will be the only passengers.” 
•   Ground transportation in both the originating city and the event city “will be by SUV(s) from a professionally licensed and insured car service.” 
•   “security arrangements as deemed necessary by [Washington Speakers Bureau] and the Speaker.”
•   Accommodations are to include “a one-bedroom suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel” as well as a “laptop computer and printer (fully stocked with paper) and high speed internet” and “all meals and incidentals.” 
•   “For Q&A, the questions are to be collected from the audience in advance, pre-screened and a designated representative shall ask questions directly of the Speaker.”
•   The contract also includes other stipulations regarding autographs, photographs, press releases, advertising, recording, lighting, bottled water and “bendable straws.”

According to the Attorney General’s office, Jerry Brown has “launched a broad investigation into the California State University Stanislaus Foundation to include an examination of its finances and the alleged dumping of documents into a university dumpster.”

The expanded inquiry will seek to determine whether the foundation, which has assets of more than $20 million, is spending its money to benefit the campus, as it promises donors, the university and the public. The CSU Stanislaus Foundation spends more than $3 million each year on university endeavors. The Attorney General is asking university officials to preserve foundation documents.

“We are taking this action to make sure that the money raised goes toward the intended educational purposes and not a dollar is wasted or misspent,” Attorney General Brown said, “Prudent financial stewardship is crucial at a time in which universities face vastly decreased funding and increased student fees.”

The Attorney General said his office would also review documents obtained from Yee today, including part of Palin’s speech contract, which students say they plucked out of a dumpster near the CSU Stanislaus administration building. Investigators will first attempt to determine whether the documents are authentic and how they ended up in the dumpster.

“This is not about Sarah Palin,” AG 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.”

University officials have denounced the Senator’s accusations calling them baseless and accusing the senator of grandstanding for political purposes.

CSU-Stanislaus Vice President of Business and Finance Russ Giambelluca said the university routinely discards documents. “We are an institution that sees lots of papers.  Every day we purge.”  He continued, “Let me make it clear no one on this campus was advised to shred documents of critical importance.”

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He also denied having seen the contract presented at the news conference and thus could not verify that it was Palin’s.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Evidence that University Shredded Documents Showing Expenses for Sarah Palin Speech”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    “The expanded inquiry will seek to determine whether the foundation, which has assets of more than $20 million, is spending its money to benefit the campus, as it promises donors, the university and the public. The CSU Stanislaus Foundation spends more than $3 million each year on university endeavors. The Attorney General is asking university officials to preserve foundation documents.”

    Is the foundation private, or part of CSU? It sounds like the AG is conceding the foundation is private, but that as a nonprofit, it must fulfill its mission statement and spend its money on “educational” endeavors. Then the question becomes whether having Palin come and speak would be considered an “educational” endeavor, much as having a Democratic speaker come and give a talk? It will be interesting to see what comes of all this…

  2. roger bockrath

    CSU Stanislaus Vice President of Business and Finance Russ Giambelluca, stated that “the university routinely discards documents”. Is he unfamiliar with University policy and State law which mandates recycling of paper waste. Or is it CSU executive policy that covering ones own ass is way more important than preserving our planet so that the people the university purports to educate have a place to live? It sure seems that in the case of dumping a hundred pounds of bleached paper in a dumpster, on a furlough day, that ass covering is more important than planet preserving to CSU executives!

  3. David M. Greenwald

    Superfluous: No, I wish I could claim credit for it, but it’s been all over the state this morning. I just kind of bumped into the press conference working on another story and figured it was too good to pass up.

    Gunrock: This wasn’t Brown’s doing, he’s following up on it because there is evidence of lawbreaking, but this was Senator Yee not Brown.

    Roger: One of my big concerns locally is the storage and preservation of public documents, that statement is concerning from that standpoint as well.

  4. Greg Kuperberg

    It’s fine by me if you do a story about CSU Stanislaus. I personally don’t trust Leland Yee any more than I trust Sarah Palin, but you’re entitled to your own opinion on that.

    But how is CSU Stanislaus any more your business than Davis is the Sacramento Bee’s business? Your other headline, that the Sac Bee was “sticking its nose” into Davis, seems entirely hypocritical in light of today’s story.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    I view it as a state issue and an open government issue. Plus I mean geez, we have shredding of documents and Sarah Palin, how could I not cover it?

  6. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]I view it as a state issue and an open government issue.[/i]

    Whereas the Sacramento Bee can’t view the Davis City Council as a regional issue or an efficient government issue?

    Besides, when I pointed out that prison guards have the most detrimental union in the state, you said that you don’t feel connected to the issue because there isn’t a prison in Yolo County. Well, there isn’t a CSU campus in Yolo County either.

    [i]Plus I mean geez, we have shredding of documents and Sarah Palin, how could I not cover it?[/i]

    Honestly there has been too much humorless clowning around. I doubt that Leland Yee is up to any good, and it also has nothing to do with Davis, but sure, you can cover it, no problem. The problem is the backdrop of turf and opportunism. Certainly if you find this story irresistible, then the Sacramento Bee is only guilty of practicing journalism.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    My problem with the Bee’s coverage is not that they can’t cover Davis, but rather that they don’t unless it’s to poke fun of Davis or tell Davis to grow faster.

  8. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]My problem with the Bee’s coverage is not that they can’t cover Davis, but rather that they don’t unless it’s to poke fun of Davis or tell Davis to grow faster.[/i]

    First of all, this is not true. In the last story that the Bee wrote about Davis before their story about Saylor, they congratulated DJUSD for its great music program. Moreover, their story about Saylor wasn’t ridicule and it wasn’t pro-growth either.

    But even if it were true, it wouldn’t be any more negative than most of your coverage of higher education. When Leland Yee has nothing nasty to say about CSU or UC, he doesn’t say anything at all, and you’ve taken a cue from him. And even that would be defensible, but when you add up all the issues seized upon, the issues tossed aside, and the accusations against perceived adversaries, it indeed adds up to territorialism and opportunism.

  9. indigorocks

    Thanks to Senator Yee and Attorney General Brown for bringing this case of fraud, waste, and abuse to the public. I hope that they prosecute the university officials for doing this, and I hope they get the money back from Palin, and put it into a scholarship fund for students that have to pay higher fees this year as a result of republican imposed budget cuts.
    I find it interesting that gunrocks is “yawn”ing at this story. He’s acting like it’s not a big deal, but my friend it’s a huge deal, you just don’t want to admit it because your a obviously a huge palin fan. god forbid that a democrat would be found guilty of this. it’s incredible to me how these rebukes will go to any length to cover up the truth and admit no wrong doing on the part of their base, yet will scream up and down, to high hell and back about how awful it is that President Obama didn’t wear a tie one day.
    So palin and csu can shred papers, steal from students and tax payers, quit her job as a governor, yet Obama can’t leave the house without a tie?
    How many times did bush wear shirts without ties?
    that was practically his hallmark for god’s sake. would you ppl stop your ignorance and hypocrisy? typical though. religious types always have a way of being so extremely and supremely hypocritical.

  10. Rich Rifkin

    It is shocking to me how much money celebrities like Sarah Palin or Bill Clinton can make in giving a speech. Most of us work 50 weeks a year, 40 or more hours a week and make less money than she can command for a one hour or so appearance. I don’t contend that they amount is unjustified. I presume that those paying can generate that much money from ticket sales. (If they can’t, and they are subsidizing her with public money, then that, to me, is unjustified.) But it still shocks me.

    I recall when John Edwards came to UC Davis in the run-up to his 2008 try for the presidency. He spoke before a sold-out crowd at the Mondavi Center for a $50,000 appearance fee (plus expenses for himself and his staff). Earlier that same day, he had given a speech in Seattle to a law school, also for $50,000. No damn wonder we have “two Americas” when a guy like Edwards, whose claim to fame at that point was he was an unqualified pick for Vice President and had served one term in the US Senate and accomplished nothing, can make $100,000 a day.

    In introducing Edwards, Lois Wolk said, because Edwards had established some b.s. thingamajob at UNC Chapel Hill studying poverty, that “he is not cashing in on his fame.” It seemed like such an odd conclusion. The man who had chosen to not cash in was not just a multi-millionaire, having exploited our idiotic civil jury trial system winning unjustified claims against obstetricians who had followed the best practices they could have, but was making $50,000 an hour appearing before university audiences.

  11. indigorocks

    ps, David, I’ll agree with you on the comment about the Bee. You’re right for the most part, the Bee only seems interested in making fun of Davis so they can force us into growing faster.
    Let’s grow grow grow.
    Ps. Has any one noticed that there aren’t any frogs, or that bee colonies are collapsing, or that the california poppy appears ominously extinct? take a look outside..no wild flowers, barely any birds, no bees, no life. it’s been killed off by monsanto and syngenta. it’s been killed off by overzealous roundup applicators. and please don’t give me that cold weather argument..why is it that certain weeds can thrive just fine in the cold, yet the wild flowers don’t? there are plenty of wild flowers right now in places where agribusiness and conventional farms are not allowed to operate.
    dig it y’all, monoculture and gmo’s, chemically dependant “crops’ for the sake of “food” or fuel is slowly but surely killed all life…
    it keeps us artificially propped up, artificially full, but it’s not food.. no way in hell is that crap food. it’s whats killing ppl and giving ppl diabetes. we’ve got to stop this onslaught of chemical foods.

  12. Don Shor

    The California poppy is doing just fine.
    I agree with Greg. At this point, when I see Leland Yee is giving a press conference about UC, I just shrug and don’t even bother to read the article. His grandstanding is tiresome, and he has probably harmed the cause of UC oversight at this point.
    There might be a story here, or there might not; most likely it’s a minor issue of mid-level accountability at UC. I would guess the AG’s office will find nothing and quietly close the case in a few weeks. Sarah Palin is entitled to charge what the market will bear for her speeches. I certainly wouldn’t pay to hear her speak, but I guess some folks will. Her contract requirements don’t sound all that different from what I’d expect any standard speaker’s contract at her level to include. This is more like Drudge Report stuff than Vanguard news.

  13. bookworm

    Frankly,I don’t understand the fascination with Sarah Palin and why a school would want to pay that amount of money for a speaker. I don’t know the political affiliations of the school, but shouldn’t that have an impact on who the speaker should be? Also, I am surprised that the school tried to destroy the contract. I mean, we all know how much politicians get for “speaking” at a campus and how much fuss they create (e.g. “bendable straws”), so that was hardly a surprise. I guess people are a lot more touchy with money esepcially with the recent cuts in schools. I think someone made a point earlier, why not invest the money into something productive for the school and its students?

  14. David M. Greenwald

    “most likely it’s a minor issue of mid-level accountability at UC.”

    This one doesn’t involve UC at all.

    I am concerned that their office said they had no documents responsive to that request, that is not a truthful statement. I agree it probably doesn’t rise very high up the food chain, but I know I fight with jurisdictions all the time over this stuff.

    Don, I don’t know what you think of Public Access to Records, the Public Records Act, Open Government, I can tell you categorically that most of the best open government legislation is coming from Senator Yee during the last five years. I have to deal with the public records act on at least a weekly if not daily basis, and from that standpoint the Senator has been good and he has been effective. California has one of the weakest laws on the books with the most loopholes, Senator Yee in the last five years has closed a number of those loopholes. I very much disagree with you that he has harmed the cause. I see no evidence to support that claim.

  15. wdf1

    It looks like the subtext, here, is to make the point that Sarah Palin wants to project a folksy regular kind of lady who talks about government overspending, but makes big demands on her speaking contract that is connected to a taxpayer-funded (partially, at least) public university. It gives the appearance that she is ripping off the government, but at the same time criticizing big government for things like extravagant expenditures.

    I see a similar kind of subtext when comments about Meg Whitman’s personal campaign expenditures are put forth: how can she talk about frugal government when she’s running one of the most expensive gubernatorial campaigns?

  16. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]But it still shocks me.[/i]

    That is a naive reaction. If you look in a directory of public speakers ([url]http://www.allamericanspeakers.com/[/url]), there are plenty of them who command $50,000 fees or even higher. For instance, Hyrum Smith, who is some boring business management advisor who I’ve never heard of, charges that much. So does Jon Lovitz, a comedian who was never all that visible and hasn’t been successful lately. Some celebrities who aren’t especially more famous than Sarah Palin charge $200,000 minimum.

    The truth is that the really rich people in the United States make vastly more money than any public employee of any kind, including a UC Chancellor. The top 0.1% (tenth of a percent) of Americans earn 10% (one tenth) of all of the income in the United States. These are households that earn at least $1.6 million a year, so it does not include either Linda Katehi or Mark Yudof; only the two top coaches in the UC system barely make it. These are people who fly only by private jet; they can hop in a jet just like you can hop in a car. The top 0.1% is where the real problem is with income inequality in the United States. As you might expect, these people get 6-figure speaking fees because of their leverage in society, even if they don’t really have anything to say.

  17. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”But it still shocks me.”[/i]

    [b]”That is a naive reaction.”[/b]

    Understood. Yet I am not saying, “I had no idea these folks make that kind of money.” I am just shocked by [i]how much[/i] money that is in so little time for doing so little.

    An anecdote I know about these “celebrity speakers” regards a classmate of mine in college (who I played poker with a few times but was never close to): He’s a novelist who has written (according to Amazon) 11 novels, all mysteries (AFAIK). I heard from a mutual acquaintance who keeps up with this guy that his books have never sold very well. He has changed publishers a couple of times because of his poor sales. However, as a “published mystery writer,” he has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees, advising groups of people who aspire to be “published mystery writers” on what they need to do get published. I was told he also sold a screenplay to Hollywood for a film which was never made. Our acquaintance did not tell me this, but I had to wonder if the “screenplay writer” was also making a living advising people how to sell screenplays.

  18. Frankly

    The top 0.1% is where the real problem is with income inequality in the United States.

    The wealthier guy up the street does not reduce your prosperity, but he can influence your envy.

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