Nonprofit Newswire | Calif. Nonprofit Sues to Obtain Palin Contract

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April 17, 2010; Associated Press | Here’s a story that intersects several themes we have covered over the years at Nonprofit Quarterly. California Aware, an agency that advocates for open government, has sued California State University to get information concerning Cal State’s contract with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for a speech this coming June. As a state government agency, it should release contract information as part of the public’s “right to know,” right? Not in this case, because the contract concerning the cost of Palin’s fees and accommodations (and presumably entourage) is being handled by the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, Cal State’s 501(c)(3) university foundation, which says that its activities are “legally exempt from the California Public Records Act.” Many public universities have created private foundations for fundraising purposes—Palin’s speaking costs are covered by private donations—and have contended that those foundations have the same rights to confidentiality as other public charities, even though they are appendages created by and serving public universities. In 2001, the state courts ruled that these university foundations were entitled to keep documents confidential—except if the documents were also in the possession of the state universities themselves. What will Aware find? Some enterprising students say they discovered a portion of the contract in the trash, referencing first-class airfare and bottled water with bendable straws—and a requirement that all questions be prescreened. We don’t care about bendable straws here at NPQ, we care about disclosure of what the public really ought to know about what public institutions are doing.—Rick Cohen

  • gringa

    What’s really interesting about this situation — aside from wondering what her potentially exorbitant pay will be — is that this state university chose someone who is not a Californian and has nothing to do with higher education in any way. Given how politically colorful Ms. Palin is, the selection was (intentionally?) bound to cause extreme contention. Does this university have no distinguished alumni whatsoever after 50 years of handing out degrees?

  • Woods

    you could stop vilifiying Sarah Palin and report on all the lack of transparency that surrounds everyone Obama nominates, everything he promotes and everything about his past. OR — you could look into who actually dontaed money to Obama’s campaign that is so secret — OR — you could stop being so biased in your reporting — Rick — you are getting truly boring with your continually liberal articles. Just like main stream media — attack Palin, disregard fairness, report from the left…..

  • rick cohen

    Dear Woods: Thanks for your comment, but I don’t think the article vilified Palin. It’s consistent with everything I’ve written about university foundations, regardless of who they’re bringing in to speak or anything else, that university foundations should disclose things, and they don’t. I wrote a big piece on this for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and it was the liberals who were upset with me. Re Obama, I think plenty of readers see me as critical of policies from that side too. I guess where you stand is where you sit. But again, the article wasn’t about Palin, it was about the university foundation disclosing information that I think university foundations ought to disclose.

  • MaryJoyce

    I have not seen your article critical of Obama’s change in beliefs about transparency. It seems to me that the use of a hidden meeting to finalize the health care reform is the most blatant disregard for transparency in the last decade, especially coming from a president who promised MORE transparency. The join conference commmitte was completely eliminated.

  • rick cohen

    Thank you, Mary Joyce. Here’s the link to the newswire piece I published about the shortcomings of the Obama Administration’s open government announcement that you were looking for: http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2176:nonprofit-newswire–open-government-slow-to-let-the-light-in&catid=155:daily-digest&Itemid=137. It doesn’t refer to health care reform discussions, but the plans of the various federal agencies to make their databases publicly available. I can’t say that President Obama has changed his beliefs, he hasn’t confided to me one way or the other. But on the merits, I generally believe in more transparency than less, for both government and nonprofits (see the Nonprofits, Transparency, and Sunshine article that should be visible on the right hand column as you look at this webpage).