Schwarzenegger vetoes higher education transparency bill

CALIFORNIA — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a controversialbill aimed at education transparency Thursday, meaning college foundationscontinue to be free of the open records law.

SB 330, which passed with bipartisan support in the California StateAssembly in August, would have extended the California Public Records Act toinclude foundations and auxiliary organizations that perform governmentfunctions in the public university system. Anonymous donations would still beallowed unless the donor received a gift from the university in excess of $500for their contribution.

Opponents to the bill argued disclosure would stifle donations, causing a”chilling effect.”

“While the bill attempts to provide a veil of protection for donorsrequesting anonymity, as crafted, it will not provide sufficient protection formany who rightfully deserve a level of privacy as part of their giving,”Schwarzenegger wrote in a statement to legislators. “Often times, these generousprivate citizen donors do not want to be in the glare of publicity, and I cannotsupport a bill that makes it more difficult for our public universities to raiseprivate funds.”

Steve Montiel, spokesman for the University of California, said the billwould conservatively cost the school $7.5 million in annual donations. UC joinedother four-year universities in opposing the bill.

Sen. Leland Yee, the bill’s author, said that argument is void.

“[Schwarzenegger] ignored the facts — these auxiliaries are fullystaffed by public employees; they often administer public funds; the donors wereprovided anonymity; and that secrecy breeds corruption, not more donations,” Yeewrote in a press release.

Yee pointed to Iowa, which has seen an increase in donations despite thepassage of similar sunshine legislation.

Montiel said Yee ignored UC’s suggested changes to the bill that wouldspecify which donations are exempt.

“The exemption to the disclosure requirements do not apply if a volunteerdonor engages in direct communication for the purpose of influencing theadministrative or academic action within the university,” Montiel said. “Theuniversity’s feeling was that virtually all donations to a foundation could beconstrued as influencing a UC action and be subject to disclosure.”

Montiel also said the personal information of all contributors, such asaddress, would be available, effectively identifying anonymous donors.

The University of California recently had a controversy involving auxiliaryorganizations, which were used to negotiate a speaking deal with Sarah Palinwithout disclosing how it was funded and what she was paid. The information– that she was given several first-class luxuries — was partiallydiscovered through papers two students found in the administration’s dumpster.Similarly controversial incidents have recently happened at Sonoma State, FresnoState, San Francisco City College, Sacramento State and Cal Poly.

“In the wake of the [University of California] scandal, we are deeplydisappointed that the Governor, in vetoing SB 330, has once again prevented thepublic from accessing information about corruption and self-dealing that isentrenched in these massive shadow governments,” Jim Ewert, legal counsel forthe California Newspaper Publishers Association said in Yee’s pressrelease.