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When Sarah Palin Speaks, We All Listen (Though Sometimes at a Price)

4 years ago
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If her 1,659,950 Facebook fans and 173,782 followers on Twitter are any guide, millions of Americans are eager to hear Sarah Palin's every word. Though I'm not an official fan of hers, I count myself among those who read far more about Palin, the Republican former Alaska governor and running mate to John McCain, than I probably should.
I know all about her endorsing Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Carly Fiorina and Star Parker in California, and her offering to work with President Obama to "plug the d#*!" hole" spewing 60,000 barrels of oil a day in the Gulf of Mexico. The mere mention of her claim to be a feminist generates heated debate among her rabid female supporters and opponents. Love her or hate her, you have to admire how she has captivated the American public like few other politicians have done.
Exhibit A is the media frenzy over her speech this Friday at a public university in California where she is reportedly receiving a $75,000 speaking fee plus expenses. For months, the press has clamored for access, and last Friday the university relented and will allow media coverage of her June 25th appearance at the 50th anniversary fundraising gala at California State University at Stanislaus.
CSU Stanislaus Foundation was looking for a big name to celebrate its 50th anniversary. And, what bigger name in politics to trot before major donors than Sarah Palin? As CSU student Maria Skordos-Moore chortled on the university's Facebook page "I think it is awesome Sarah Palin is speaking at Stan State!! How do I get tickets to hear her speak? Kudos to whoever got her to speak in the Central Valley!"
Sarah PalinOther students justified the Foundation's decision. One of them, Patricia Alvarez-Palma, posted the following view on Facebook: "well people it is a fundraiser and this name although now liked by alot is very highly solicited and will deff bring in the big money, i think its smart and a good move for what it is ...to raise funds."
The CSU Foundation has received some well-deserved heat for not opening its books to the public. In fact, it was only through clever dumpster-diving by a group of CSU students that Palin's lucrative arrangement came to light. Now, Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown is investigating the university's failure to disclose details of her contract. Since then, the Foundation has been on the defensive, and refused to turn over details of the Palin contract. CSU Stanislaus president Hamid Shirvani said that the Foundation did not have to turn over its documents and, moreover, that it could not breach the confidentiality clause in the Washington Speakers Bureau contract "even if it wanted to."
So, once again, controversy swirls around Palin. But, in this case, I think the controversy is misplaced. I have no problem with paying speakers lucrative amounts nor that Palin earned $12 million on the speaking circuit last year. After all, captivating speakers routinely earn high fees.
No, it's not Palin's celebrity that I mind. What I mind is that Palin is accepting such an extraordinary fee at a time when CalStan must cut $6 million from its budget and is furloughing its employees 24 days this year. Palin's payment is even more galling in light of the fact that the university struggles to help the 45 percent of CalStan's students who rely on financial aid to pay the $16,000 annual fees.
Getting Palin may have been a coup for the university, and there's little doubt that her speech will be Cal Stan's biggest fundraising event to date. It's hard to sneeze at the $100,000 to $200,000 that Matt Swanson, the president of the Cal State Stanislaus foundation board, expects to net after expenses from those willing and able to fork over $500 for a ticket.
But, the real issue is what should Palin do with her speaking fee?
Democratic State Senator Leland Yee says that Palin should have waived her speaker's fees. He argues that Palin "gouged California students" by charging such a high fee.
I'm not Sarah Palin's PR director. But, if I were giving advice, I would suggest a sure-fire winning strategy. At the end of her speech --- which we can all now hear thanks to media pressure --- Palin should announce that she is donating her speaking fees to the CSU financial aid office to fund a scholar's four years at the university. Talk about a PR coup.

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