CA lawmakers wrestle over taxpayer funds used for Palin speaking fee

(NBC) – The back-and-forth battle between a California State University foundation and a state senator logged a new chapter Monday, with the senator claiming public funds are being used to run the private foundation.

State Senator Leland Yee, a Democrat representing San Francisco, alleged records from the state and Internal Revenue Service contradict a claim that only private money is being used for the California State University Stanislaus Foundation and an upcoming campus visit by former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Millions of dollars in public funds are being used to run the foundation that's hosting the Turlock University's 50th anniversary gala in June, which will feature the former Alaska governor, according to Yee.

Yee's allegation is the latest news in an ongoing controversy surrounding the Palin speech contract, which the foundation said is a private matter.

Citing documents, Yee said that in 2009, more than $1.5 million in taxpayer money went to salaries of staff and board members of the foundation.

The foundation received nearly $3 million in government grants from 2006 to 2008, according to IRS filings cited by Yee.

"The CSU administration has failed the students and the taxpayers of California," Yee said in a statement. "Both ethically and legally, all documents regarding this foundation -- including the Palin contract -- should be public. It is unconscionable that the administration thinks they can spend millions of taxpayer dollars behind closed doors without any real transparency."

The foundation disputed Yee's claim, saying he's "misinformed about how the CSU Stanislaus Foundation operates."

"The fact is the $1.5 million figure he cites is the total of all staff salaries for the University's Office of Advancement, of which the vast majority of staff do not work on Foundation activities," a statement from CSU Stanislaus Foundation President Matt Swanson said.

Last week, a group promoting open government has filed a lawsuit against CSU Stanislaus seeking records related to Palin's visit.

The suit, filed by Californians Aware, also seeks a judicial declaration that the university violated the California Public Records Act.

CSU Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani issued a statement late Friday, contending the school "has complied with all legal obligations when responding to Public Records Act requests regarding the University's 50th Anniversary Gala."

Attorney General Jerry Brown's office announced last week it would investigate the university and the foundation for their handling of the contract.

Authorities said the investigation has nothing to do with Palin herself.

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