A California judge has ruled that the $75,000 in fees paid to Sarah Palin for her speech at a state university should not have been kept secret.
The ruling issued this week serves as a postscript to the flap over Palin's June visit to California State University Stanislaus, where university officials repeatedly refused to disclose how much they had paid to lure the A-list Republican celebrity-pol to serve as keynote speaker for a fundraising gala. Even after a state senator and an advocacy group filed formal requests for the Palin contract, top university officials stood their ground, saying they had signed a confidentiality agreement with Palin that was binding.
This week, the judge said otherwise.
"The University's failures to … produce records when and as requested, whether deliberate, negligent or inadvertent, constitute violations of its obligations under the California Public Records Act," wrote Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne. "The reasonable inference from the evidence produced is that the University, in its official capacity, has 'used' the contract between the Washington Speaker's Bureau (with Ms. Palin and the CSU Foundation) in the conduct of the public's business; therefore, said contract is also a public record and should have been produced to Petitioner."
With the ruling, the full contract with Palin -- including its calls for first class or private Lear jet travel, luxury hotel accommodations, pre-screened questions, and "bendable" straws -- was formally made public. (A portion of the contract had already surfaced courtesy of some dumpster-diving students.)
"This is a great day for transparency and government accountability," state senator Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, said of the court ruling. "However, it is also a sad day when a public institution so grossly violates state law and when their legal counsel is ignorant of the public records statute. It is even worse that university administrators attempted to blame students for their own negligence and misconduct."
The university defended its decision to spend $75,000, saying Palin would be such a major draw that her fees would more than be offset by the donations to the university's foundation. But the decision to spend money on a headliner brought blowback from those who thought it was an ill-advised expense at a time when state universities were suffering under back-breaking budget constraints.
University foundation officials told the Associated Press that they ultimately spent about $2,500 on Palin's hotel and security and that a donor flew Palin to the June 25 event on a private jet. She paid for her own hair appointment, the officials told the AP.
School officials publicly reported in July that the fundraiser raised more than $207,000 for the university, making it the most successful fundraiser in campus history. But the decision to keep the Palin contract a secret still left a bitter taste for some.
"It is time for CSU to embrace commonsense transparency policies instead of spending taxpayer dollars fighting to keep the public in the dark," Yee said.