May 11, 2010 -- The speaking fee headed to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for a scheduled June speech at a California State University was kept secret in order to spare the university from more negative coverage, according to internal emails released by a state lawmaker Tuesday.
The decision not to share the fee, despite requests for details from state officials and members of the media, came following a lengthy exchange between CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed and Bernie Swain, chairman of the Washington Speakers Bureau, which handles Palin's paid speaking engagements.
"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," Swain advises Reed. "Your event needs fewer story lines, less oxygen for the fuel, not more."
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."
After the chancellor shared the exchange with other university officials, Kristen Olsen, who heads the Stanislaus campus public relations office, responded: "Good news. The Chancellor is satisfied now with not disclosing the fee."
University officials told ABC News that the emails are somewhat misleading because the conversation began with personal appeal the chancellor made to Palin's representative to be able to disclose the speaking fee.
"He asked whether they would consider waiving the fee," said Claudia Keith, a CSU spokeswoman. "Frankly, the chancellor would have preferred to send out the contract himself. But they said no."
Swain has not responded to a message and email seeking comment.
Questions about how much Palin is getting to speak at a function sponsored by the quasi-public fundraising arm of the state school have been roiling for several weeks.
Last month, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. said his office was looking into accusations that officials at a state university violated public records laws when they refused to reveal the financial details of the contract with Palin to speak at the June fundraiser, and allegedly shredded documents related to the agreement.
"This is not about Sarah Palin," Brown said in a prepared statement. "She has every right to speak at a university event, and schools should strive to bring to campus a broad range of speakers. The issues are public disclosure and financial accountability in organizations embedded in state-run universities. We're not saying any allegation is true, but we owe it to the taxpayers to thoroughly check out every serious allegation."
A state senator asked Brown's office to open the investigation after students at Cal State University Stanislaus reported finding documents in a dumpster related to the Palin speaking appearance. They accused university officials of discarding the documents in an effort to hide the details of the contract with Palin, which is reportedly worth $75,000 to the governor, and includes provisions that require luxury accommodations and first-class travel arrangements. The senator, San Francisco Democrat Leland Yee, had asked the university to justify the expense at a time when the state is struggling financially.
"There is absolutely no doubt that public funds – through the use of university resources and employees – have been used for this event and yet the taxpayers are being kept in the dark," Yee said in a statement Tuesday, after his office made public the email traffic between Reed and Swain.
"Chancellor Reed is well aware of the law that requires foundation documents in the possession of university employees to be disclosed," Yee said. "The administration has failed the taxpayers and the students. It is now imperative that the Board of Trustees hold these executives accountable."
University officials said at the time they had not been informed of the attorney general's investigation, but said they believe it will show they acted properly and they will cooperate fully.
The university's president, Hamid Shirvani, defended the decision to invite Palin to speak, and told ABC News that university officials did not attempt to destroy any documents.
"We have absolutely never, nobody has been asked to shred any document regarding Gov. Palin," Shirvani said. "The smoking gun is really not a smoking gun."