Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Fear and Loathing in Turlock - The CSU Stanislaus emails, 151 pages of it - UPDATE! "Shill commenting" for CSU Stanislaus!

Many of you will already know that I am very fond of original documentation, and today we received a big package: 151 pages of internal CSU Stanislaus emails which relate to the controversy surrounding the planned appearance of Sarah Palin at CSU Stanislaus.

While a few pages from these emails have today already been discussed in the media, it is worth to take a closer look at all of the pages - you can be certain that there are always some nuggets lying around, when Sarah Palin is "involved". ;-)

Download the 151 pages of internal emails HERE (attention: 75 MB).

Second download link HERE.

As an alternative to the download, you can also view the pages here:
CSU Document Production - 5-10-2010

There are several things we learn from these emails:

1. The University was well aware already at a very early point of the fact that the appearance by Sarah Palin would be highly controversial, and frantically tried to prevent bad PR right from the start.

2. The main reason why Sarah Palin's speaker's fee hasn't been made public is that the University is afraid of negative headlines.

3. Several Professors of CSU Stanislaus protested strongly against the appearance of Sarah Palin in internal emails, and their protest was ignored, although some Professors were furious that the reputation of CSU Stanislaus could be damaged in the course of these events.

4. The construction of the claim that the "infamous" pages 4-9 of the Palin contract were apparently "stolen" from the University office is simply laughable.

5. Personal convictions and relationships explain why the administration of CSU Stanislaus fights so hard for Sarah Palin: For example, Kristin Olsen, Assistant Vice President for Communications & Public Affairs at CSU Stanislaus who plays a "lead role" in these email communications, is a local Republican politician and radical pro-lifer who is currently running for the California assembly. In addition, Bernie Swain, chairman of the Washington Speakers Bureau, is an old friend of the CSU Chancellor Charlie Reed from their "good old days" at George Washington University.

Let's take a closer look at some of the emails.

You could already sense the ensuing "drama" in an email from March 22, when the simple fact that "word is spreading about Sarah Palin coming to speak at the University" caused panic. Reporters are being stalled and "worse-case" and "worst-case" scenarios are being identified immediately:

Email CSU Stanislaus - March 22 - 2010 - part 1
Email CSU Stanislaus - March 22 - 2010 - part 2

Probably the most scandalous part of the correspondence follows shortly afterwards, in the correspondence from March 31, which has already been discussed today in the national media. The leadership of CSU Stanislaus decided not to disclose the amount of Sarah Palin's speaking fee for one reason alone: The publication of the fee would most likely cause bad publicity.

Emails - Disclose - negative publicity - part 1
Emails - Disclose - negative publicity - part 2
Emails - Disclose - negative publicity - part 3

Kristin Olson noted in the correspondence: "Good News. The Chancellor is satisfied now with not disclosing the fee."

Well, good news indeed for Kristin Olson! After all, she also notes on her political website:

"I am 100% pro-life and believe that life starts at conception. I have been active in the pro-life movement for over two decades, speaking on the issue to various organizations, writing letters and articles, even marching to the State Capitol to bring awareness to the issue. I am a strong advocate of faith-based pregnancy crisis centers that counsel women, provide them with love and support, and show them alternatives to abortion."

The administration of CSU Stanislaus leaves a pitiful impression.

California State Senator Leland Yee today found harsh words for these events:

“More and more evidence is demonstrating a clear violation of the public records act by CSU officials, and now there is proof that Chancellor Reed was complicit in it,” said Yee. “Chancellor Reed and President Shirvani were more concerned with covering up an embarrassing story than complying with state law.”

Very powerful is also the statement of Senator Yee which he made on March 31, 2010 in his letter to CSUS President Shirvani:

"It is incomprehensible that given the inextricable link between the CSUS Foundation and the CSUS itself, as evidence by your dual role as President of the University and Chair of the Foundation board, not to mention the sharing of staff, facilities and other resources, that the terms of Mrs. Palin's contract are not kept by any public official of the university itself. Imagine the precedent of allowing state-funded public officials to claim complete immunity from any and all transparency and oversight under the guise of "volunteering" for a non-profit entity that performs similar governmental functions."


However, it should be noted for the record that this is just one side of CSU Stanislaus - the other side is also reflected in this email correspondence. Several Professors of CSU Stanislaus voice their strong protest - the Palinbots won't like at all what these academics have to say about Queen Sarah! ;-)

Dan Williams, Emeritus Professor Zoology:

Email Dan Williams - Emeritus Professor Zoology

Richard Savini, Professor for Art:

Email Richard Savini - Professor for Art - part 1
Email Richard Savini - Professor for Art - part 2

Patrick A. Kelly, Professor for Zoology:

Email Patrick A Kelly - Professor of Zoology

Kofi Akwabi-Ameyaw, Professor Emeritus for Anthropology:

Email Professor Emeritus Kofi Akwabi-Ameyaw - part 1
Email Professor Emeritus Kofi Akwabi-Ameyaw - part 2

Kelvin Jasek-Rhysdahl, Professor for Economics, voiced his "confusion":

Email Professor - Kelvin Jasek-Rysdahl - confused

If you think that the administration of CSU Stanislaus already performed badly in the emails shown above, think again! The demonstrated level of incompetence was easily surpassed by the message of Susana Gajic-Bruyea, "Vice President for University Advancement" at CSU Stanislaus from April 13, 2010 to ABC-reporter Matthew Mosk. This message simply made me furious. It reads:

Email - Susana Gajic-Bruyea - recycling bin

UNBELIEVABLE! This woman had the audacity to imply that two young students, Alicia Lewis and Ashli Briggs, had stolen the pages of Sarah Palin's contract with the following ludicrous explanation:

"I last saw the document in question in my recycling bin on March 18 and went looking for it today, April 13 and the document was no longer there."

It was no longer there? What a scandal! Well, maybe the recycling bins are sometimes being emptied at CSU Stanislaus? Isn't this a remote possibility that one could think of before accusing other people of stealing?

In addition, she gives no explanation as to whether all documents were missing from the recycling bin or just the contract, or what the general procedure is regarding recycling bins in the University offices. If this woman would make such a statement in court, the defense lawyer would tear her apart! However, this ridiculous statement resulted in headlines like these on the following day, April 14:

LA Times headline April 14 - 2010

This administration is a joke! The University should rather listen to Professor Patrick A. Kelly, who said in the correspondence:

"Mrs. Palin has had no involvement with our campus, or either CSUs to my knowledge. She does not have a record of accomplishment in education, either personally or professionally. For these and other reasons, she is neither qualified nor suited to be the "Keynote Speaker" at the 50th Anniversary Gala of CSU Stanislaus."

We couldn't have said it better.



There is another shiny nugget hidden in the emails! The "Turlock Journal" spotted it already, and we found even more additional gold dust!

Have a look at this email:

Email - Nick Garcia - shill commenting - part 1
Email - Nick Garcia - shill commenting - part 2

What was that?

"We will also track the online response to the articles and work to insert our messaging on these news comment sites.

Please let me or Beth know if you have any questions regarding the news coverage."

Interesting! The "Turlock Journal" remarked:
"The Journal made contact with Hightower, but she did not respond to Journal questions regarding the university’s attempt to bury the story. The counteroffensive continued in an April 17 e-mail from Nick Garcia of Ignite Consulting, where Garcia said he would “track the online response to the articles and work to insert our messaging on these news comment sites,” effectively admitting to shill commenting. Hightower did not respond to questions on the nature of the university’s relationship with Ignite Consulting, nor did she elaborate on services Garcia had performed."
"Shill commenting" for CSU Stanislaus! Wow!

Who is Nick Garcia from "Ignite Consulting"? Well, not too much can be found online.

The "whois" for the website "www.ingniteconsulting.com" names Nick Garcia as the administrative contact, but the website itself doesn't load. The identical cell phone number gives away that Nick Garcia used to work as a PR-manager for Well Point / Blue Cross in the past. In 2007, Well Point / Blue Cross was in hot waters, and Nick Garcia was in the eye of the storm:
"Blue Cross of California spokesman Nick Garcia says the company was never notified of an investigation, and that it worked closely with the Dept. of Managed Health Care in 2006 when formulating the dividend amount.

But Lynn Randolph, DMHC deputy director of communications, says the company should be aware of the investigation, because the department has asked it to provide several documents related to the probe."


Our reader "Ghostbuster" found an article about Nick Garcia which gives more details about Nick's previous work as an aide to Governor Schwarzenegger.


Let's look at the above email more closely. Nick Garcia copied somebody in who is potentially interesting: "bmiller@wilsonmillercom.com", he called her "Beth".

Who is she?

Well, this time we have a website of this company - and it's very interesting indeed:

The website of "Wilson Miller Communications Inc" makes no secret of which services are being provided:
"Building Competitive Strategies That Win!

Engagement in the public policy arena is like playing a game of chess. It takes strategy, experience, foresight and focus. Chess games are also seldom won with the opening move, that's why we create strategies and build organizations that are sustainable and capable of outsmarting your competitors and your opposition.

With more than 60 years of combined experience in California's corporate and public policy arena, Wilson-Miller Communications has helped shape the California political landscape by working on some of the state's most high profile election and public policy campaigns.

Our goal is clear: We work hard to help our clients win. When our clients win, we succeed – it's that simple."
What's on offer in particular? For example "Advocacy Communications":
"Getting your customers and/or constituents to react positively to your organization’s goals should be an ongoing initiative. This takes experience, creativity and well-thought-out strategies to achieve desired outcomes. Prioritizing and proactively aligning public policy and your organizational goals can positively change constituent and customer attitudes and behaviors within key audiences, such as employees, the media and the broader public. To positively change behaviors or attitudes is never easy. Yet, this proactive work serves as the backbone of any organization’s public outreach efforts, especially at a time when a growing number of organizations vie for attention with potential customers and constituents, the media and the broader public."
Or take a look at the "Issues Management":
"Today, many organizations use issue management techniques to keep all of their external relations activities focused on high-priority challenges and opportunities. Wilson-Miller Communications has developed and implemented targeted public affairs and issues management strategies for some of California’s largest employers and public initiatives. Wilson-Miller Communications takes an experienced-based approach by helping clients develop a strategy and, then, directing the implementation of that strategy to address some of the largest current issues today. As a result, issues management becomes an integral part of an organizations way of influencing its constituents and neutralizing opponents.
"Influencing its constituents and neutralizing opponents?" Yes, I think we get the general picture.

Who is behind the company?

"Beth" is the partner Beth A. Miller. It's very transparent whose side she is on:
"Beth previously served as deputy director of communications and chief deputy press secretary for former California Governor Pete Wilson. Prior to relocating to California, she worked at the Republican National Committee (RNC) in Washington, DC, as head of their communications field division, coordinating media and political strategy for state party operations and state and local campaigns.

During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Beth was appointed press secretary for the National Energy Strategy at the US Department of Energy. She also served as communications director and press secretary for former US Representative Virginia Smith (R-Nebraska) and was part of the historic 1986 campaign team that elected Kay Orr as the first woman governor of Nebraska. Beth began her career at the Republican National Committee, working in various capacities within the political and communications divisions.
Who else do we have in this firm? Another partner is Julie Soderlund, she worked for example with Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that's not all, and now it's starting to get really interesting: Julie Soderlund is also the spokesperson for Carly Fiorina's 2010 Republican primary campaign for the US Senate! Yes, that Carly Fiorina who Sarah Palin endorsed just a few days ago! It's a small world. ;-)

Politico also recently mentioned Julie Soderlund in connection with Carly Fiorina's campaign, when Julie defended the horrible "FCINO / Fiscal Conservative in Name Only" TV advert:
"It's certainly gotten a lot of people's attention," said Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund. "That's the purpose, being shocking, edgy, to produce something that people are talking about and something relatively inexpensive to produce."
I think "shill comments" are even cheaper to produce. A clear winner! ;-)



I received the message from Senator Yee's chief of staff that the Senator has responded to the revelations about the involvement of PR-firms and has released the following statement:

“I am shocked that the university is using either taxpayer dollars or foundation funds to help cover-up their wrongdoing. The university already has several employees responsible for media relations. It is truly unconscionable that they would find it a priority to contract with a partisan PR firm at a time when students and faculty are struggling. The documents released this week by CSU raise more questions than answers. Many of the correspondence clearly had preceding and subsequent emails that were not released as required by law.” -Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco)


CSU Stanislaus - Palin protest flyer
CSU Stanislaus - Palin cartoon


UPDATE 3 (May 19):

Following the publication of the 151 pages of internal emails from CSU Stanislaus regarding Sarah Palin's planned speech, members of the faculty of CSU Stanislaus have discovered another "gold nugget" which is hidden in those emails. An internal email by CSU spokesperson Eve Hightower to CSU President Shirvani reveals that the money from the fundraiser with Sarah Palin will NOT be used for scholarships!

Eve Hightower writes:
"President Shirvani,

Here is the Sac Bee article this reporter has been working on for two days. Unfortunately, it states that money raised will likely go towards scholarships. While that is not what I said, I suggest we let it go. Asking for a correction will only perpetuate the story."

CSU Stanislaus - Email Eve Hightower - Scholarships

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