Palin's Cal State Stanislaus speech raises ire

Critics pan pricey fund-raiser to mark school's 50th year

March 29, 2010 

McCain Palin

Sen. John McCain background right, and Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee, make a campaign appearance at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Ariz. Palin is the latest conservative star to back McCain in his Republican primary race against former U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Rob Schumacher) ** MARICOPA COUNTY OUT; MESA TRIBUNE OUT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES **

ROB SCHUMACHER — AP

TURLOCK -- Organizers knew that inviting former vice presidential candidate and ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to California State University, Stanislaus, would generate talk.

"I didn't know it would be this big, this fast," said Matt Swanson, president of the university foundation, which invited Palin to headline a black-tie fund-raiser June 25.

Some of the fallout:

• State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, wants to know how much the foundation is paying Palin, pointing out that very few students could afford the $500 ticket price.

• A student group is organizing a protest and its own event to mark the university's 50th anniversary.

• A professor started a Facebook group called "Sarah Palin, Terrible Choice for 50th Anniversary of CSU Stanislaus."

Swanson, who fielded an onslaught of media calls Monday, wasn't second-guessing the decision.

"I think I'm going to have to send Leland Yee a gift basket," he joked. "My advertising budget has gone to zero."

Yee, who has tried to pass legislation requiring foundations to disclose their expenses and contracts, issued a news release about his request that the foundation reveal what it's paying Palin to come to Turlock. She has commanded $100,000 in speaking fees.

Although CSUS President Hamid Shirvani is chairman of the foundation board, it is technically a private, separate entity from the school and not subject to open government laws that compel public schools to disclose information about spending and contracts.

Shirvani declined to comment about Palin's appearance and referred questions to Swanson.

Yee's chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, said the senator's stand is that "there are no private dollars when you're talking about a state university."

"The foundation is there solely for the purpose of helping students," Keigwin said. "If money for scholarships is going into the pocket of Sarah Palin -- or anybody -- the public should know."

Swanson said the speaking contract precludes the foundation from disclosing the payment amount. He said no previous foundation money went to pay Palin.

"This event is being 100 percent funded with fresh, private money coming into the foundation," he said.

And it's bringing in more money, between sponsorships, table reservations and tickets, which are selling fast.

"This is a great opportunity to do something that would make fund raising fairly easy," he said. "I think that part has borne itself out."

John Gavin, a Turlock green-home promoter, is among those asking the foundation to rescind its invitation.

"While I'm sure that Mrs. Palin has her good qualities, she also has many characteristics about her that make her a poor choice for this honored event," he said in a letter to the 50th anniversary committee. "Mrs. Palin is a polarizing and divisive celebrity with no connection to our school or community."

Warriors Fight Back, a campus group that has helped organize protests of budget cuts and the elimination of winter term, also opposes Palin's visit. Members met Sunday and plan to organize a 50th anniversary event, one that will be low-cost or free, and held in May when more students are on campus.

Zoology Professor Patrick Kelly started the anti-Palin Facebook page.

"For many reasons, Mrs. Palin is an unsuitable choice to headline the gala event to celebrate the university's 50-year existence," Kelly wrote. " ... perhaps the most important reason is this gala anniversary should be about the institution and education, not focused on a celebrity-politician who has no familiarity with the former and no record of accomplishment with the latter."

Swanson wasn't fazed by the vitriol.

"I am thrilled that we're in a country where we can exercise our free speech," he said.

And as for the suggestion of other events, "We'd love it," Swanson said. "More power to them. We'd love them all to put on huge, successful fund-raisers."

He pointed out that several other activities are planned, many of them open to students and the general public.

Palin's appearance is designed to raise money, and it's going to be successful in that way, he said.

"At the end of the day, we need to have people invigorated and excited about writing a big check," Swanson said. "We knew she was going to be super popular and super unpopular. She was the best fund- raising choice we could make."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or 578-2343.

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