Throngs of protesting students and hundreds of well-heeled donors are preparing to greet Sarah Palin, whose speech at a struggling public university in California's farm country Friday evening will cap off a prolonged legal dispute over her visit.
The former Alaska governor is set to headline at the 50th anniversary celebration at California State University, Stanislaus, which in recent days has transformed its humble cafeteria into a glitzy Gala Hall, now surrounded by chain-link fences and extra security officers.
Palin's speech has generated intense intrigue and scrutiny since the nonprofit foundation holding the event first announced her visit in March. Officials have refused to divulge the terms of her contract, her speaking fee, or any additional details about her trip to California.
News of Palin's requirements only came to light after students fished several pages of the contract from a trash bin, which prompted California Attorney General Jerry Brown to launch an investigation into the finances of the university's foundation arm and allegations that the nonprofit violated public disclosure laws.
"We cannot believe the stuff that has gone on with our campus over Sarah Palin's visit," said Alicia Lewis, 26, who was one of the students who retrieved piles of paperwork, including the contract document, from a trash container in April. "And now they're fencing the campus off? It's outrageous."
University spokeswoman Eve Hightower said the fencing was standard procedure and said the campus would remain open to students going to class. She said the university foundation was on target to meet its fundraising goals, and that Friday's gala would be one of the most successful fundraisers in the university's history.
"We're not here to make a political statement, we're here to make money," said university foundation board president Matt Swanson, who announced that the sold out dinner had raised more than $200,000 by Friday afternoon.
The university has had to cut some classes and cancel some scholarships as a result of California's ongoing budget woes.