Friday, April 16, 2010
The California State University Stanislaus Foundation has been in the news lately because it's sponsoring the upcoming public speaking appearance of Sarah Palin, and won't divulge how much they are paying the former governor of Alaska.
Students at the CSU Stanislaus campus, displaying a highly commendable spirit of sunshine activism, went dumpster diving and found portions of Palin's contract in the trash.
State Senator Leland Yee, working with Californians Aware, are just a few of the players trying to force the CSU-affiliated foundation to make documents related to Palin's speaking fee available for public inspection. Toward that goal, Californians Aware filed a lawsuit today against the foundation and its withholding records.
I went over the IRS 990 filings for the foundation, and learned that in 2008 it received $297,723 in government grants, during 2007 that figure was $459,978, and in 2006 a robust $2,164,277 from government agencies flowed to the foundation.
Over this three-year period the foundation raked in a total of $2,921,978 in such grants. Almost three million public dollars.
The foundation, as with all nonprofits, is not required to disclose which government agencies awarded the grants, and no disclosure is made as to whether the funds came from a state or federal agency. All too vague for my sunshine tastes.
Radical sunshine advocates such as myself believe that when a nonprofit receives a government grant, all local, state and federal open books statutes should apply. A nonprofit should not be allowed to keep the public in the dark about which government body is giving them money, nor should the public be refused transparency on things such as fees for sub-contractors, with either the likes of Sarah Palin or Al Gore.
The darkness surrounding the Palin contract with the CSU Stanislaus Foundation, is a prime instance of what it wrong with current disclosure laws for orgs with an IRS tax exemption, it which the org gets also receives an exemption from full transparency.
Here's an ironic political twist to the Palin speaking fee controversy at CSU Stanislaus. The president of the university and the foundation, Dr. Hamid Shirvani, is someone who donated $2,300 to Barack Obama's presidential campaign. His wife, who also works at the university, gave Obama $2,300 in 2008.
Nice of Palin to inadvertently assist better sunshine at colleges and foundations of all sorts. We will all benefit from the Californians Aware suit and proposed legislation from Senator LelandYee, pushing the public's right to have more books opened for public inspection.