Reporting from Turlock, Calif. — Amid tight security and protests, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made a highly anticipated fundraising appearance Friday at Cal State Stanislaus, where she was given a standing ovation by a sold-out audience that paid $500 a plate to hear her speak.
FOR THE RECORD:
Sarah Palin speech: In some editions of Saturday's LATExtra section, an article about the fundraising appearance of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at Cal State Stanislaus carried the incorrect dateline of Stanislaus, Calif. The university is in Turlock in Stanislaus County. —
In her 40-minute speech, Palin joked about the controversy surrounding her visit, including demands in her speaking contract for plenty of water and bendable straws.
"Glad I got some of those contractual demands out of the way," she said as she surveyed the podium.
She called out state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown for investigating the finances of the campus foundation that invited her, including whether the university illegally sought to discard documents pertaining to her contract.
"Come on, this is California. Don't you have anything better to do?" Palin said to applause. "There's not a whole lot of controversy here. There's no 'there' there. I'm just happy you stuck with me and didn't cancel on me."
Palin also addressed the topic of teaching the next generation the civic lessons of protecting freedom and defending the American idea of liberty.
"We're not educating our youth about the exceptional nature of America," she said. "For America to survive, we've got to pass that on to the next generation."
Before Palin arrived, about 150 students and members of the liberal group Valley Progressives marched from a park to the campus.
They chanted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho. Sarah Palin's got to go," and held signs with such slogans as "We'd rather have Tina Fey," in protest of Palin's visit.
"This is a campus with many Latinos, African Americans and Asians, and to invite someone affiliated with the 'tea party' is a slap in the face to students," said Melina Juarez, 23, a political science major.
"But it's not simply about her political message," Juarez said. University President Hamid Shirvani and the Cal State Stanislaus Foundation, the nonprofit organization that held the event, "have not been transparent about disclosing her fee," she said.
Nearby, about 50 Palin supporters waved American flags at passing cars.
"We believe in the 1st Amendment; it's not just liberals who should have free speech," said Joan Rutschow, 66, a retired teacher from Modesto. "And she's going to bring a lot of money to the school, and we're very supportive of that."
Besides student protesters, Palin's invitation had been panned by many professors and alumni who said they see her as a poor representative of academic pursuits. But supporters snapped up tickets nonetheless.
About 370 people attended the event, which was to commemorate the campus' 50th anniversary.
At a news conference before Palin's speech, Shirvani and Cal State Stanislaus Foundation President Matt Swanson announced that the event had grossed more than $450,000 in cash and in-kind donations, for a net cash total of $200,000.
Shirvani said a third of the money will be used for scholarships and the rest will fund university programs.
Swanson said that despite the negative attention focused on the university, the foundation did not regret inviting Palin.
"It's been an interesting road," Swanson said. "But Sarah Palin has allowed us to generate the level of interest and excitement to meet and exceed our goals."
Since her entry onto the national political stage in 2008 as the Republican vice presidential candidate, nearly every appearance by Palin has stoked controversy.
Her selection as the keynote speaker at Cal State Stanislaus' main fundraising event brought worldwide attention and provoked furious speculation and debate when the university refused to disclose her speaking fee.
Sources who have seen Palin's contract but who were not authorized to speak about it publicly said it calls for $75,000 plus expenses for hotel, airfare and transportation. But the steadfast refusal to confirm the number by university officials caused a standoff with open government advocates.
In April, the nonprofit government watchdog group Californians Aware filed a lawsuit against the university seeking details of Palin's visit and alleging that administrators — who are public employees — are violating the Public Records Act by withholding documents. The lawsuit is scheduled to be heard next month.
University officials contend that because the Cal State Stanislaus Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization, it is not subject to the Public Records Act. Swanson has said that no public funds were used and that the Washington Speakers Bureau, which represents Palin, required that the financial terms remain confidential.
Palin's appearance does not silence the issue, Calaware general counsel Terry Francke said.
"We were not that interested in the honorarium but interested in how involved university officers were in the planning and execution of this event," Francke said. "It's that point that goes to the question of whether the foundation should be as transparent as the university."
For state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), the Palin visit has become a test case of the transparency of all nonprofits affiliated with public universities and colleges.
Yee has drafted legislation, SB 330, that would require the nonprofits to adhere to California's Public Records Act. The bill recently passed the Assembly Higher Education Committee.