Newly released documents shed light on a California state university's efforts to limit public scrutiny of its decision to book Sarah Palin for a June speaking engagement but do not disclose how much the former vice presidential candidate was to be paid.
Officials at California State University, Stanislaus sent a flurry of e-mails in the days surrounding the March announcement of Palin's visit to its Turlock campus, which drew widespread media attention and calls from students and lawmakers for the university to make her speaking fee public.
CSU administrators provided those and other documents on Tuesday to The Associated Press, in response to a request under the California Public Records Act.
The documents included emails between Charles Reed, the chancellor overseeing the CSU system, and the Washington Speakers Bureau, which handled the contract between Palin and the CSU Stanislaus Foundation.
Bernie Swain, chairman of the speakers bureau, cautioned that releasing Palin's speaking fee would only increase media attention. He counseled CSU administrators to let the coverage die down.
"Your event needs fewer story lines, less oxygen for the fuel, not more," Swain wrote on March 31. "We believe, as others have said, any real damage has already been done and after a few days these inquiries and stories will slowly, but surely, end."
Reed said he agreed with Swain's advice, adding that CSU Stanislaus "should have worked this through with you all in the beginning."
On Tuesday, Reed's office confirmed that he had reached out to Swain seeking a waiver of the non-disclosure cause in Palin's contract with the foundation. He was told the contract could not be altered and relented to keeping the information private.
Kristin Olsen, head of public affairs at CSU Stanislaus, forwarded the e-mails between Reed and Swain to two of her colleagues with the comment: "Good news. The Chancellor is satisfied now with not disclosing the fee."
In the weeks following that exchange, the controversy surrounding the former Alaska governor's visit has made national news and prompted a lawsuit by the open-government group Californians Aware.
It has also led to an investigation by the state attorney general's office into the CSU Stanislaus Foundation's finances as well as allegations by several students that university officials threw away piles of documents in a campus trash bin last month, after receiving several formal requests for the material.
One of the documents recovered at the time appeared to be a portion of Palin's contract, detailing perks such as first-class airfare for two, deluxe hotel accommodations and bottles of water complete with bendable straws.
The Palin-related documents released this week came more than a month after public records requests were filed by the AP, a state senator and Californians Aware. They mostly included communications with members of the media and copies of press releases and news articles.
The university continues to keep Palin's speaking fee and other contract details private, saying its foundation handled the negotiations and is legally exempt from public records requirements. Palin has commanded fees as high as $100,000.
A 2001 state appeals court case ruled university foundations and auxiliary organizations are not subject to the same public disclosure requirements as universities themselves. However, the court also ruled that foundation documents must be made public when they are in the university's possession.