On a 7-1 bipartisan vote, the Senate Education Committee yesterday approved legislation supported by Californians Aware to bring greater transparency and accountability to campus-supporting foundations and other "auxiliary organizatioins" at California’s public colleges and universities.

Authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), SB 8 would require auxiliary organizations and foundations that perform government functions at the University of California, California State University, and California’s community colleges to adhere to state public records laws.

The bill has overwhelmingly passed the Legislature twice but was vetoed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Los Angeles). 

“I am confident that unlike his predecessor, Governor Jerry Brown will match his action with his rhetoric and sign this bill into law,” said Yee. “Our public universities should not be allowed to hide billions of dollars without any accountability. Most of these auxiliaries are fully staffed by public employees who administer public funds, yet their decisions are made in complete secrecy. Taxpayers and students deserve better.”

While SB 8 is considered a non-fiscal bill and previous versions of the legislation were not considered by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill will receive an unexpected hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks after the UC made such a request of the committee chair last week.

“There is clearly no cost to this bill and in fact it will likely save taxpayer funds and ensure dollars are spent on students rather than executives,” said Yee.  “Without any evidence and despite the bill’s language to protect donor anonymity, the UC and CSU are trying to claim the bill will result in fewer donations. We not only have anecdotal evidence from donors who say they need transparency in order to trust that their donation is being wisely spent, other states that have implemented similar laws have seen an increase in donors.”

The UC and CSU have often evaded the public records act by shifting some responsibilities to foundations and other auxiliary organizations operating on campuses. Several recent examples demonstrate the need for increased public oversight and accountability provided by Yee’s legislation.

The most recent scandal of an auxiliary organization involved the CSU Stanislaus Foundation.  The Foundation negotiated a speaking contract with Sarah Palin, but originally refused to disclose her compensation. They first claimed they had no documents pertaining to her June visit. After emails written by administrators regarding the visit were uncovered, they then claimed the Foundation was exempt from the state’s public records law despite being fully staffed by taxpayer-funded employees. 
Students later found pages 4 through 9 of the Palin contract in the administration’s Dumpster, which showed her visit requirements included a hotel suite, first class airfare or a private Lear jet, pre-screened questions, and “bendable straws.”  After a lawsuit filed by CalAware, a judge ruled that the CSU acted illegally and forced it to disclose the complete contract which showed she also received $75,000 plus expenses.

According to the CSU Chancellor’s Office, in 2009, 20 percent of its $6.7 billion budget, or $1.34 billion, is held in their 87 auxiliaries and foundations, and out of public view.