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California bill would require more transparency in university foundation fundraisers

California university foundations would have to disclose more information on fundraisers such as one headlined recently by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin under a measure that passed the Legislature on Thursday.

The measure was one of dozens that state lawmakers sent to the governor. Others would bar the provision of electronic cigarettes to minors, ban elected officials from receiving unemployment benefits and require state pension-board candidates to provide more detail about their campaign funds in the wake of recent scandals.

The actions come as lawmakers have less than two weeks before the end of the current legislative session.

State senators had a vigorous, politically charged debate on legislation that addressed controversy over Palin’s recent headliner speech at a fundraiser for a charitable foundation at Cal State Stanislaus.

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Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who sponsored the disclosure bill, and others complained that the foundation refused for months to disclose how much it was paying the former Republican vice presidential candidate for the speech. University sources said her contract called for a $75,000 speaker’s fee, plus expenses.

University officials argued that the foundation is not subject to the same public records laws that apply to government agencies. Yee’s bill would extend those disclosure rules to auxiliary organizations and foundations that perform government functions at the University of California, California State University and California’s community colleges.

Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) led Republican opposition to the measure, SB 330, saying it was pushed because of Palin.

“This bill has more to do with politics than it does with transparency,” Denham said.

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Responded Yee: “Transparency should be a nonpartisan issue, yet the introduction of Sarah Palin into the debate seems to have made some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle less supportive of an open and transparent government.”

Lawmakers also approved a measure to shed more light on campaign fundraising by candidates for the state pension boards. The bill is part of a broader effort to require more disclosure as the California Public Employees’ Retirement System faces criticism for financial losses and allegations that its investment decisions were compromised by favoritism.

The measure would require CalPERS board candidates to make public their campaign finances more frequently and would extend the rules to candidates for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which currently does not require any campaign finance disclosure.

“It is essential that we insure there is complete transparency and accountability in how PERS and STRS candidates raise campaign funds and what they do with the money,” said Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), author of SB 1007.

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The Senate also sent the governor a measure that would prevent elected officials from collecting unemployment benefits after they lose or leave their public seats. The bill was introduced in response to an incident in which former Rosemead City Councilman John Nunez filed for and received unemployment insurance payments after he lost his reelection last year.

“As elected officials, we are public servants who answer a call to give, not to receive,” said Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), one of the authors of SB 1211.

Health issues were cited by lawmakers who approved a measure that would outlaw the sale or furnishing of electronic cigarettes to minors, making it an infraction punishable by fines of up to $200 for the first offense and up to $1,000 for the third or subsequent violation. The battery-powered devices, which provide users with a nicotine fix without burning tobacco by producing an inhalable vapor, have become a popular alternative to cigarettes. SB 882 is by Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro).

The governor has not publicly stated whether he will sign the measures.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


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