Gov. Sarah Palin may be flexible on some of the perks she needs when speaking in public, but on the question of drinking straws, she shall not bend.
Six pages of the contract Palin's handlers sent to Cal State Stanislaus were unearthed in a dumpster by students there this week, and one of the many requirements that must be met for the former vice presidential hopeful: two unopened bottles of still water and "bendable straws" must be waiting on a wooden lectern.
That was just one item among the pages of elaborate demands that must be met to land a contract for Palin to come speak at an event. More costly were the requirement for her travel – the venue must supply her with business or first class commercial airfare, or with a private plane. And not just any jet will do.
"The private aircraft MUST BE a Lear 60 or larger (as defined by interior cabin space) for West Coast Events; or, a Hawker 800 or Larger (as defined by interior cabin space for) East Coast Events, and both are subject to the Speaker's approval. The Speaker Reserves the right to change the flight plans at any time," the contract states.
None of this was supposed to be made public. Palin's contracts include a confidentiality clause, and the state university that had booked her to speak at a fundraising event has been fighting with state lawmakers over demands that the details be made public. Palin's name does not appear in the six pages recovered, but the contract is from the Washington Speakers Bureau, which handles her speaking engagements, and refers to a female speaker who will be aboard flights originating in Anchorage, Alaska.
Palin's planned speech at Cal State University Stanislaus is one of the dozens she has booked on a lucrative lecture circuit. Speaking has become a major component of her post-governorship career – a multi-media whirl that has earned her at least an estimated $12 million since she left office in July, a figure that is based on publicly available records and reports.
The Cal State speech – which is believed to be costing the university's foundation about $75,000 -- became grist for controversy when California state Sen. Leland Yee questioned the wisdom of the expense at a time when the state is in the grips of a budget crisis. University officials have remained defiant. University Vice President Susana Gajic-Bruyea sent an email March 29 to students defending the choice.
"The board wanted to bring a keynote speaker who would attract significant interest and, therefore, drive ticket sales," she wrote. "Sarah Palin is that type of speaker, whether or not people agree with her politics, and we expect this event to be a tremendous fund-raising success."
Even so, Yee has argued that university officials have an obligation to cough up the details of the Palin agreement. He unveiled the newly discovered documents at a press conference Tuesday morning, and hailed the find as a singular achievement for the public good.
"I never thought we would have to relive Watergate again. This is our little Watergate," Yee said.
"These students found these documents that the University said they didn't have," he continued. "I will not allow any retaliation against these two individuals."
Yee showed off the documents – including parts of the university's speaking contract with Palin – that were found in the dumpster outside the university's administration building two days after university officials told Yee (D-San Francisco) that they did not have them. According to Yee, students at Cal State Stanislaus learned on Friday, April 9, that someone with the university had allegedly come in on a furlough day (a day when state workers stay home to save money for cash-strapped California) to destroy the documents. Yee has turned the documents over to investigators with the California Attorney General's office.
University officials have made no secret of their desire to keep the details of the contract with Palin under wraps. They said Palin was invited to speak by the university's foundation, its quasi-private non-profit fundraising arm, which they argued is not subject to public records requests.
Neither Washington Speakers Bureau nor a spokesperson for Sarah Palin responded to a request for comment about today's press conference.