Released Palin documents show media storm hovering over Cal State Stanislaus

May 11, 2010 

Nearly 900 pages of e-mails related to Saran Palin’s June appearance at California State University, Stanislaus show a campus struggling to control a growing media storm.

University officials say the documents, released this week, prove the school complied with public records law. A state senator said they prove the opposite.

CalAware, a government watchdog group that asked for the documents, copied 151 pages and posted those online.

All of the documents are emails generated or received by CSU staff. The majority of the 899 have to do with handling the media.

Palin’s contract, which prompted the attention originally, is not included.

CSU officials have said that contract lies with the private foundation hosting the event.

The university has been inundated with calls and requests for information since news broke that its foundation signed the contract with the former Republican vice presidential candidate for a black-tie fundraiser celebrating Stanislaus’ 50th anniversary.

The contract with the Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Palin, requires that her fee be kept confidential.

An e-mail exchange between CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and Bernie Swain at the Washington Speakers Bureau about a potential fee disclosure garnered attention Tuesday.

“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,” he wrote in an e-mail dated March 31. “Your event needs fewer story lines, less oxygen for the fuel, not more. We believe, as others have said, any real damage has already been done and after a few days these inquiries will slowly, but surely, end.”

Reed responded: “Bernie, I agree with you that the damage is done and the disclosure will just cause another round of newspaper stories. The campus should have worked this through with you all in the beginning.”

The messages were forwarded by Kristin Olsen, the university’s vice president for communications and public affairs to campus spokeswoman Eve Hightower, Foundation President Matt Swanson and Shirvani’s assistant with the message: “Good news. The Chancellor is satisfied now with not disclosing the fee.”

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said the exchange shows CSU officials were trying to circumvent the law.

“More and more evidence is demonstrating a clear violation of the public records act by CSU officials, and now there is proof that Chancellor Reed was complicit in it,” said Yee, who has written legislation that would make university foundation records public. “Chancellor Reed and President Shirvani were more concerned with covering up an embarrassing story than complying with state law.”

University officials maintain that’s not the case.

“The e-mail that was included in pages provided yesterday to CalAware as part of the response to their Public Records Request indicates that the Washington Speakers Bureau was unable to grant the request,” CSU spokeswoman Claudia Keith said in a statement. “The latest accusations by Sen. Yee are nothing more than a continuation of his efforts to create scandal where there is none.”

In a later e-mail from CSU media relations specialist Erik Fallis to Hightower, Fallis points out that the CSU Stanislaus Foundation will have to disclose Palin’s fee after the fact when it is audited. Shirvani has said the overall expenses and revenues for the event would be released; this is the first mention of the fee itself becoming public.

Palin has commanded fees of about $100,000 for appearances at other events.

The documents also contain references to an investigation launched by Attorney General Jerry Brown after students said they found part of the contract in a University Dumpster. Shirvani himself called for an investigation, saying the contract was taken from a recycling bin inside an administration building office.

The only figures in the documents posted by CalAware are $1,483 and $25. The first is an estimate from USA Valet for a staff of eight, parking cars for 264 people over 5½ hours. USA Valet Managing Member Brian Bauer added a 20 percent gratuity, because, he wrote, “I believe based on the type of event this is, that the guests will not be tipping the valets. We do fundraisers in the central valley regularly, and I believe a lot of the same crowd will be at this event.” That raised the original estimate from $1,236.

The second number is the cost per hour to rent a seven-passenger cart from the university’s police department. The estimate assumed a need for up to three carts for five hours.

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