May 12, 2010; Source: San Francisco Chronicle | It’s hard to believe that in today’s day and age, with the push for openness and transparency so strong, that anyone could believe that keeping quiet about financial dealings involving public institutions are best kept secret, and that saying nothing will make it all go away. Add to that, when the requests for information involve Sarah Palin, you really end up scratching your head in wonderment how anyone can believe that less is more.
Yet, emails disclosed this week show that California State University Stanislaus was told to keep its mouth shut about how much the school’s foundation is paying the former vice-presidential candidate and darling of the right to speak at a June fundraiser. Since March, lawmakers, the press, and others have been demanding the school and foundation to disclose the speaking fee.
The foundation, CSU and the agency that manages Palin’s appearances, the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, have been saying, more or less, that the information is nobody’s business. To compel officials to release that information, California Aware, an open-government group, recently sued the university after CSU said it didn’t have to disclose the speaking fee because the event is being hosted by its foundation. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a California law shields foundations from being forced to make such information public.
However, the university earlier this week released some 900 pages of related paperwork in response to the lawsuit. Among the documents were email exchanges between CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and the president of the Washington Speakers Bureau, Bernie Swain. In trying to determine the best way to deal with the suit, at one point Chancellor Reed phoned Swain to ask him if the agency could make Palin’s speaking fee public, despite a non-disclosure clause in the contract.
In an email reply Swain wrote: “The release of the fee, while well-intentioned to share all details, will likely only serve as the financial headline for a new round of stories rather than the intended purpose of clearing the air and making the stories go away. Your event needs fewer story lines, less oxygen for the fuel, not more.”
According to the Chronicle, Reed agreed, saying “disclosure will just cause another round of newspaper stories.” As the Chronicle story itself shows, and some several dozen others like it, CSU and the speakers bureau certainly misjudged this one. The hole they tried to fill is just getting bigger.—Bruce Trachtenberg