Reining in California's college 'auxiliaries'

For three years, state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has fought to win approval of what should have been simple: He wanted certain private college foundations — the "auxiliaries" that raise money for California public colleges and universities — to be bound by the state's open records laws. Happily, he's at last able to report success.

It comes after years of work during which the universities fought him, insisting that donors would stop giving if their names were to be made public. Secrecy thus prevailed, and predictably, that bred abuse. A former auxiliary board member in Sonoma resigned from a foundation board and days later received a $1.25-million loan from the group. In Fresno, donors to the Fresno State auxiliary reportedly received access to luxury suites at a new arena; when the Fresno Bee asked for their identities, the foundation refused. In Sacramento, the state college president used more than $27,000 in auxiliary money to remodel his kitchen.

Those and other controversies made it essential that the law be changed to make clear that the auxiliaries, though nominally private groups, in fact were arms of the universities and subject to its disclosure requirements. But the universities persuaded Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto the bill. The result: As is so often the case, a good idea ran aground in Sacramento.

Fortunately, Yee kept at it, and reached a compromise under which donors may continue to give anonymously. Their identities will only be revealed if they receive something in return valued at $2,500 or more, if they are given a no-bid contract within five years of donating or if they attempt to influence the university's operations or curriculum. All other records of the auxiliaries would be subject to the same disclosure requirements as those of other state entities.

That's not perfect, but compromise rarely is. It is, however, a triumph of negotiation and reason. The Senate last week approved SB 8 by a vote of 38 to 1. It goes next to the Assembly where it deserves similarly broad support.

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