By Anne Lowe

PUBLIC INFORMATION — State college and university auxiliary organizations could soon be subject to public records laws if a bill amending the Public Records Act is approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by Sept. 30.

The organizations, including both fund-raising foundations and operators of campus bookstores, act as non-profits for the state’s higher education campuses and they are currently not required by state law to disclose revenues and expenses to the public. SB 330 by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) would amend the California Public Records Act to include these organizations, though donors may still remain anonymous if they do not receive a gift worth more than $500 in return.

Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill in 2009 because he felt that making donor names accessible to the public would “scare away private donors,” the State Hornet says. The California State University chancellor’s office proposed amendments to the current bill to further restrict access to donor information, the newspaper explains:

Opponents of the bill said even its amended version could deter donors, ultimately decreasing revenue for auxiliaries and diminishing their ability to serve students.
“The bill’s language still puts requirements on donors,” said Erik Fallis, spokesman for the California State University chancellor’s office.

Fallis cited the amended language barring anonymity of donors receiving gifts valued more than $500.

“It still has the likelihood of a chilling effect on donors who would like to be considered anonymous,” Fallis said.

The CSU proposed multiple amendments that would have “better protected donor anonymity while allowing auxiliaries to benefit students and faculty,” Fallis said.

But the proposals were not considered, he said.

“The amendments would have allowed auxiliaries to function the way they were set up to – by operating as nonprofits to benefit the California State University system,” Fallis said.

Auxiliary organizations have recently been subject to scrutiny due to several controversies involving the use of their funds, the State Hornet reports: CSU Stanislaus was ordered to reveal the $75,000 speaker’s fee it paid to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in June, and an organization at CSU Sacramento was found by the Attorney General’s office to have paid for university President Alexander Gonzalez’s kitchen renovations in 2003.

Proponents of the bill say the organizations should be subject to public records laws because a portion of university student fees are given to them. “That’s student money, and they should have oversight of that money,” Adam Keigwin, Sen. Yee’s chief of staff, told the State Hornet. “It’s the only way to ensure that administrators are accountable.”