By Anne Lowe

OPEN GOVERNMENT — Senator Leland Yee Wednesday rebutted as unfounded predictions by California public university officials that his SB 330, which would bring their non-profit campus auxiliary organizations under the California Public Records Act,
would hinder those organizations’ fundraising abilities.

The most prominent examples of auxiliary organizations, campus foundations, have recently been subject to
media scrutiny after California State University Stanislaus refused to disclose a $75,000 contract with
former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for her speech there in June. The organizations—which can also operate numerous campus facilities such as bookstores, food services and housing—are
not currently required by the California Public Records Act to disclose their
financial or other information to the public.

Yee’s bill would require these auxiliary organizations to
disclose information pursuant to that law, but donors to foundations would be
allowed to remain anonymous as long as they did not receive a gift valued at
more than $500 in return. Despite the ability of donors to remain anonymous
under this bill, university officials are still in opposition to it:
Administrators are claiming that the disclosure of any donor information would
“have a chilling effect on private donations to the Campus Foundations.”

responded to these claims Wednesday
with research that proves otherwise.

A case watched closely by public university
foundations and open records advocates was settled in February 2005 when the Iowa
Supreme Court ruled that the state’s public university foundations must open
records to the public.

The ruling – involving records held by the Iowa
State University Foundation – stated that the foundation “is performing a
government function, and therefore its records are subject to disclosure…The
foundation’s activities support a myriad of university programs, scholarships,
facilities, and projects. The foundation is plainly performing a government
function by virtue of its contract with ISU, and therefore…the Iowa Freedom of
Information act mandates disclosure.” 

In the year prior to the ruling, Iowa State
University, University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa saw a
combined $234.6 million in donations to their foundations.  Following the
ruling, the universities saw a 26 percent increase – an additional $59.9
million – in donations.  The subsequent four years after the ruling, Iowa
public universities received on average $289.3 million annually in donations –
an average of $54.7 million more than the year prior to the ruling.

“The result in Iowa confirms that the ‘chilling
effect’ argument drummed up by UC and CSU is specious,” said Jim Ewert, Legal
Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.  “Donors are
more willing to give to institutions that operate in the open with nothing to
hide so they can ensure that their gifts are not being misused.”

“The evidence demonstrates that transparency does
not have a negative effect on donations to university foundations,” said Lillian
Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association. “Instead, the lack of
transparency in the CSU foundations has led to mismanagement and commingling of
state and private dollars.  As the case in Iowa shows, potential donors
want to have confidence that their funds are being used appropriately and both
the UC and the CSU are simply making specious arguments so that they can
continue to operate in secrecy.”

SB 330 is currently on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk awaiting his signature. He
has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill into law.