Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will receive $75,000 to speak at Cal State Stanislaus next month, an event that has become steeped in controversy and brought the small Turlock campus worldwide attention.
Much of the scrutiny has centered on the former governor's speaking fee, which the university has refused to disclose. The fact that Palin has received up to $100,000 for other recent appearances had stoked furious speculation and the kind of cloak-and-dagger intrigue worthy of a novel.
Now, two California State University sources who have seen the contract for the engagement said that it calls for $75,000 to be paid to Palin, along with expenses for her hotel, air fare and transportation. The former governor's travel, however, has yet to be booked and the exact amount of her expenses is still to be determined, the sources said
Palin is receiving the fee in two payments of $37,500 each, one of which has already been paid, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the contract.
Officials in the California State University chancellor's office in Long Beach and on the Stanislaus campus would not confirm the disclosure, nor would Matt Swanson, president of the Cal State Stanislaus Foundation, the private nonprofit organization hosting the event.
Representatives from the Washington Speakers Bureau, the Virginia-based group that represents Palin, did not return a call seeking comment.
Cal State Stanislaus officials said the $500-a-plate, June 25 event, which will accommodate about 400 people, is expected to net between $150,000 and $200,000 for the foundation. Sponsored tables are selling for $5,000 to $50,000. They have stressed that no public funds are being spent and that costs will be covered by money raised specifically for the gala.
But state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco) has cited the dust-up in pushing legislation, SB 330, that would require university foundations like that at Stanislaus to adhere to the California Public Records Act.
"It's rather disappointing that Sarah Palin is asking for nearly $100,000 to speak at this anniversary event when we're looking at state increases in student fees, cancellations of classes and the fact that this money could be going to scholarships," Yee said in response to the fee disclosure. "She could do wonders for all of us … by taking this money and donating it back to the foundation."
The government watchdog group Californians Aware last month filed a lawsuit against the Cal State campus, seeking details of Palin's visit and alleging that university officials who are public employees are violating the Public Records Act by withholding documents.
A group of Stanislaus students has claimed to have found a portion of the Palin contract in a campus dumpster, with requirements for the appearance that included plenty of bottled water and "bendable straws."
University officials alleged that the documents, which did not include the fee, were stolen; they asked the Stanislaus County district attorney to investigate. The alleged dumping of documents prompted a probe of the foundation's finances by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.
From day one, Stanislaus officials said they invited the former governor because they knew she would generate interest and ticket sales in the mostly conservative San Joaquin Valley community. But they weren't ready for the resulting tidal wave, Swanson said.
"She has brought us a new level of attention and we're learning how to handle that," he said.
But he defended the choice, saying that after looking at other potential speakers, and considering concerts and other more costly events, Palin was the "best cost and lowest investment."
"It's very clear that Palin has a lot of interest in our community," Swanson said. "We have our usual donors involved, but more than 50% of them are new donors. It's not our intent to alienate anybody, but in this day and age, new money is the most prized thing of all."