Sunday, April 04, 2010

Leeland Yee versus Sarah Palin?

I find it interesting that State Senator Leeland Yee is busy making headlines in his criticisms of the Stanislaus Foundation for refusing to disclose the speaker fees for Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin has been scheduled for a fundraiser at Cal State University- Stanislaus. Needless to say many have jumped on Leeland’s bandwagon because it involves Sarah Palin.

In the interest of public disclosure, I should preface this article with the links to a three part article that I posted during the 2008 Presidential campaign about Sarah Palin and Alaska Natives. They can be found on Part one is here. Part two is here. And part three is here. The purpose of the article was to demonstrate that Sarah Palin was clearly in over her head in addressing the numerous issues impacting Alaskan Natives in her role as Governor. It is worth noting that I even stated in the article: “Governor Palin has NOT shown herself up to the task of Governor and has failed to focus on defending Alaska’s natural resources, preserving its unique environment or protecting and enhancing the democratic rights of Native Alaskans. Most of the problems have NOT been of her making, but neither has she demonstrated the ability to ‘think outside the box’ of the powerful economic interests seeking to come into the state for their own short-term profits.”

From this point on, I want to take issue with the kind of politics that seeks to garner headlines while disregarding the consequences of actions by the state government. Let me begin by saying that the Stanislaus Foundation has very specific obligations under the California Public Records Act. The Act can be found in its entirety. It should be noted that legal action is stipulated for both the public and the District Attorneys. Section 6263 states:”A state or local agency shall allow an inspection or copying of any public record or class of public records not exempted by this chapter when requested by a district attorney.” This is the nuclear option of the California Public Records Law. It provides the ultimate mechanism for ending ceaseless back-and-forth public disputes of what is and what is not open to disclosure. Senator Yee currently has a proposal on the table to include public foundations in the public records law.

Not being an attorney, I am neither qualified nor intend to propose a legal opinion in regards to the current applicability of the California Public Records Law to the matter in question. As to the purpose of fundraising for CSU-Stanislaus, it has been noted in a Fresno Bee article that ”The foundation's 2008 tax return shows it raised $4.1 million and distributed close to $3 million in scholarships and assistance to the school.”

As to the politics of the issue, there is no question that State Senator Yee has been actively engaged in the past on issues in regards to state universities and city colleges in regards to disclosure practices. The current issues are being wrapped around the personality of Sarah Palin. It is worth asking the question as to whether the case that is being made can be handled under existing law or if State Senator Yee’s visibility is directed towards amending the California Public Records Law. In either event, the issue of Sarah Palin being the speaker should be taken out of the discussion.

State Senator Yee has chosen to make the speaker the issue. On his Facebook page he has chosen to raise the cancellation of a proposed FOX NEWS interview with him to substantiate his case. Fortunately for Americans, FOX NEWS editorial decisions have no bearing on the enforcement of California state law.

The Stanislaus Foundation has not disclosed the speaker’s fee because of a non-disclosure clause in her contract. The case for open disclosure is obvious to all and is important in maintaining the accountability of public institutions. Can a case be made for fundraisers who have agreed with speakers not to reveal the speakers’ fees? It should be said that Sarah Palin is not the only speaker to require a non-disclosure fee in the contracts made for appearances.

It is worth discussing before changes are made whether we want to restrict the options for fundraising at a time when state budgets have been cut. Non-disclosure clauses are not new and reflect the desire of the speakers to define the conditions for their appearance. The Stanislaus Foundation was free at the time of negotiating the contract to reject Sarah Palin’s non-disclosure clause. If their agreement to inclusion of the non-disclosure clause was a violation of the California Public Records Law, then it is clearly a matter for a District Attorney. It is entirely possible that the Foundation’s legal review of the contract might have missed something required under the Public Records Law. For this there are procedures included in the Public Records Law.

State Senator Yee is more familiar with the law then I am. I grant his expertise on the Law as he has actively sought to expand its applicability as cases were brought to light in the state higher education system. I do not challenge his personal motives in this regard. I am wary of efforts that are pinpointed towards “unpopular” opinions as they are seen here in San Francisco. I am concerned about the impact of increased disclosures on the ability to raise funds for higher education. I do not cling to it as something that cannot be amended as needed. I simply want fundraisers to be provided with options to raise funds for the schools so they can benefit present and future students. It is clear that the Governor and the California State Legislature have not lived up to their obligations to fully fund state higher educational institutions.

This goes well beyond the message that Sarah Palin could conceivably present at her speaking engagement. It goes well beyond my own political disagreements with Sarah Palin. It goes well beyond the particulars of FOX NEWS coverage. When it comes to open disclosure, I support increasing it as possible and relevant to the oversight of public records. There is no argument that there are plenty of people in the Stanislaus area who would pay $500/head to see her. I’m not one of those. But, I am not at all threatened by the views of Sarah Palin or the movement among middle class Americans known as the Tea Party. These folks include family members of mine who have no sublimated racist or fascist tendencies. I have always had disagreements with my family since the Vietnam War. I don’t expect that to change now. But I have never seen them aggressively act to deprive others of their Constitutional or legal rights.

Respect for diversity of views has always been important in this state and throughout the U.S. The Green Party has been subjected to many efforts initiated by Democratic Parties in states to restrict our ballot access. We know that they have been no less inclined then the Republican Party to play the game that restricts political representation by marginalizing third parties. The Tea Party movement will find this out for itself and Sarah Palin will be the main proponent of staying within the Republican Party. My word of advice to them is to realize what Libertarians and Greens learned a long time ago: there are no friends in the duopoly Democratic and Republican parties when it comes to forming parties that represent a distinct political agenda removed from their control.

1 comment:

Gregg Jocoy said...

Thanks for this piece Martin. I am one of those who believes that some of the TEA Party folks are angry about some of the same things I am angry about. Bail outs of rich folks who did bad things. Federal budgets which will bankrupt our nation for decades to come...while forcing our children and grand children to pay obscene amounts in interest to these same filthy rich folks. Once enough of them realize that the filthy rich they have been fooled by, like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, don't want them to go "off the reservation", perhaps they will give us a look-see. We need to find ways to reach out to the TEA Party folks who aren't actually professional political scum, and be there when the light bulb goes off.