Bill aiming for increased transparency passes state Senate vote

A bill that aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in auxiliaries and foundations in California’s public higher education system was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for approval on Thursday.

Senate Bill 8 — authored by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco — will ensure that auxiliaries and foundations at the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges abide by the California Public Records Act.

The bill was passed in a 36-1 bipartisan vote in the state Senate on Thursday. It would ensure anonymity to donors unless they are receiving something valued at $2,500 or more in exchange for their donation.

The UC had opposed previous versions of the bill, presented by Yee over the last two years, but switched to supporting this year’s iteration after certain revisions were made.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill twice before, first because the bill did not guarantee donor anonymity at all and again because he felt that the anonymity aspect did not go far enough, as donors only would have received anonymity for quid pro quo situations of $500 or more.

Yee’s Chief of Staff Adam Keigwin said that it was this revision in the bill that changed the stance of public higher education administrations, which previously opposed the bill.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said in an email that earlier versions of SB 8 “would have compromised the foundations’ ability to raise funds from private sources — and at a time when our fundraising needs are greatest.”

If signed into law, the bill will have no impact on the ASUC Auxiliary unless there are third-party agreements that result in trade secrets, according to ASUC Auxiliary Director Nadesan Permaul. However, it would require UC foundations, which are not subject to the act because they are private entities, to disclose requested information and documents.

Keigwin also said that, if passed, the bill will have a greater impact on CSU than on UC because auxiliaries — in addition to foundations — at CSU were never subject to the Public Records Act before.

Klein said that earlier versions of the bill would have declared UC foundations public entities, which the UC opposed. The amended version of the bill removed that aspect and instead “establish(es) a reasonable process” for the public to request information under the California Education Code.

“Donors to a UC campus foundation shouldn’t lose this type of protection simply because they choose to donate to a public university,” Klein said. “If the foundation couldn’t guarantee donors that it could keep this type of personal information private, donors would be less likely to donate.”

Keigwin said that this has not been the case in other states because many donors want to know where their money is going and therefore choose not to remain anonymous.

He said the bill would create greater transparency in the public higher education system because people will be “doing the right thing because they know they’re being watched.”

If signed, the bill could prevent instances of money being used to boost executive salaries, pay for the renovation of a home or finance a low or no-interest loan, according to Keigwin.

However, Klein said there have never been any inappropriate or questionable activities at the UC foundations.

Still, if signed, the bill will assure more transparency within the system, according to Keigwin.

“It’s important because open government is important,” he said.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that ASUC Auxiliary Director Nadesan Permaul said the passage of SB 8 would have no impact on UC auxiliaries. In fact, he said it would not have an impact on the ASUC Auxiliary.