Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed a bill intended to openly disclose the financial records of all public universities in the state.
SB 330 — authored by Sen. Leland Yee — sought to force all public state colleges to comply with the California Public Records Act, which requires state agencies to make their financial transactions completely transparent. The governor rejected the bill last Thursday, ensuring that public universities’ private financial transactions remain closed to public scrutiny.
According to Peter King, director of media relations for the University of California Office of the President, the UCOP was pleased by the Governor’s decision because of fear that the bill would have violated the anonymity of private donors.
“It was well intended, but it had some flaws in it that would have put some of our efforts to raise money through philanthropy in jeopardy,” King said. “We were worried about the donors who prefer to contribute anonymously.”
However, Douglas Wagoner, Associated Students external vice president for statewide affairs, said he didn’t agree with the Governor and University’s reasoning that the legislation would inhibit donations.
“From what I understand, there was some amendment that would allow donors to remain anonymous,” Wagoner said. “In his argument, [the Governor] was suggesting that people would be less apt to donate money because the public would be able to slander [donors] or put them on blast… His argument doesn’t make sense.”
Even though the bill would not necessarily have disclosed the personal information of donors who request confidentiality — unless they received a large gift in exchange for their endowment — King said Senator Yee’s proposal would have made it easier for the general population to discover a donor’s identity.
Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas also said SB 330 would have deterred some charitable organizations from donating money to the UC.
“While the source of the money is kept private, the expenditures are not,” Lucas said. “All of our expenditures are available for scrutiny and we conduct standing audits of our books to make sure money is being spent as it was intended.”
Additionally, King said the public has no reason to suspect the University of misappropriation.
“The money that is given to us privately goes to the campuses to be spent,” he said. “We do account for it already. It is made public.”
King also stressed that the UC system’s current structure promotes transparency and accountability.
“Transparency is something we value highly,” he said. “If you compare us with any other public university or agency, you’ll find that we’re as transparent as it gets.”
Wagoner, on the other hand, said there’s evidence of state public university officials being wasteful of private funds.
“We’ve seen, over the past years, articles about the CSU system specifically mixing private and public funds,” he said. “The fact is that they can no longer tell the difference. It’s pretty clear through their demonstrative action that there’s already some irresponsibility going on.”
Furthermore, Wagoner said he is currently working with administrators and students to create an oversight committee dedicated to responsible investment by the UC Regents.
“If we want to return faith in our government and the state of California, it’s imperative that we move toward financial transparency — especially in these rough economic times,” Wagoner said.