Senate Bill 8 to make colleges more transparent

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved a bill that would increase transparency of auxiliary organizations and foundations that perform government functions throughout California’s higher education system.

Senate Bill 8, authored by state Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was passed by a 4-1 bipartisan vote.

Yee’s Chief of Staff Adam Keigwin said this would be the third time the bill has been sent to the governor’s office.

“It has been overwhelmingly supported,” Keigwin said. “Its received bipartisan support the past two years but we unfortunately ran up against the buzz saw with the governor.”

Former Gov. Schwarzenegger defeated the bill twice despite his stated support for transparency.

“While Gov. Schwarzenegger talked a good game about transparency and blowing up the boxes, his actions rarely matched his rhetoric,” Keigwin said.

He added Gov. Brown’s actions as attorney general matches his rhetoric.

“We feel with Gov. Brown its not just rhetoric, he has backed it up in the past with action and we think he will do that again when we put this bill on his desk,” Keigwin said.

Senate Bill 8 is expected to reach the governor’s desk this summer.

According to Tom McCarron, vice president for Administration and Finance, although there is much transparency at CSUN, there is much concern over the bill.

CSUN has five auxiliaries.  They are University Student Union Inc., the University Corporation, the CSUN Foundation, the North Campus-University Park Development Corporation and Associated Students.

Like former Gov. Schwarznegger, the concern is the privacy of donors and its effect on fundraising.

“It could jeopardize some of out privacy rights of donor and volunteers,” McCarron said.

Keigwin said there are scenarios that would make the donor’s name public such as a donor receiving a luxury box seat or an opportunity to affect curriculum.

“We heeded his (Gov. Schwarzenegger) concern in his original veto message regarding donors and volunteers and we exempted them out of the bill in last year’s version in the attempt to get his signature,” he said.

The bill was still vetoed. Keigwin added they would not have put the bill up for approval if Schwarzenegger were still in office and if they did it would have been a “significantly watered down bill.”

“We thought that was fair, unfortunately the governor still vetoed it which makes us think his original veto message was just empty. He was always going to side with the administration and not with the students or the faculty or open government groups,” Keigwin said.

Keigwin added this bill is so crucial in the financially situation of the CSUs and UCs.

“We need to have a watchful eye (over those dollars that go to the pubic universities),” Keigwin said. “We need to make sure they are spent wisely and are spent on the needs of the students.”

Keigwin said past donations have been used to renovate campus presidents’ home kitchens or to provide no interest-free loans to executives who then defaulted on the loans.

“We know there has been wrong- doing with these auxiliaries. Transparency allows greater accountability and inevitably more money we think for students to go to the classroom,” Keigwin said.

The auxiliaries at CSUN are subject to external audits by the Certified Publi Accounting (CPA) firms and the CSU trustees. The department of finance can also audit them, McCarrron said.

He added the corporations file federal tax returns and those records are open to the public.

“The board meetings of all of our auxiliaries are open to the public, agendas are posted in advance and boards are comprised of students, faculty, administrators and community members,” McCarron said.

He said the approval of the bill could have a “chilling effect” on fundraising and could jeopardize proprietary contracts such as pouring rights, which is an exclusive permission granted to a beverage manufacturer, in CSUN’s case Coke or Pepsi, to distribute on campus.

“If they had access to their competitors bids or contracts, it could reduce the bidding range and the income we receive from those commercial companies,” McCarron said.

Dr. Theresa Montaño, president of CSUN’s California Faculty Association said there is a need for transparency in the current economic times and that is why this bill is important.

“Given the constraints on the budget, we need to be much more transparent,” Montaño said. “We know that there are funds within the foundation, for example, but we don’t know where it’s going.”

She said the bill would help “open” the records for the public to understand the budget concerns.

“More and more as the budget gets tight, the more reliance there’s going to be on outside funding,” Montaño said.