Sierra: No funds used to bring senator to campus

Republican representative questions event
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A

Sierra College officials and the president of the political science club that recently hosted a political awareness event on campus are maintaining that no taxpayer dollars were used to bring Sen. Darrell Steinberg to speak to students about voting and Proposition 30 last week.

Diane Foster, vice president of the Auburn Area Republican Women Federated, has questioned whether or not Steinberg violated government or education code when he came to campus last week.

Greg Harnage, president of the Sierra College Political Science Club, said Monday the state senator was not paid to come to campus for the club's Political Awareness Day last Tuesday. Steinberg spoke in Dietrich Theater on the college's Rocklin campus.

"We did not pay him. One of our club members suggested having him come and speak when we mentioned wanting a closing speaker, so she was able to fulfill that request for us," Harnage said.

Mark Hedlund, communications director for Steinberg, said the senator drove himself to Sierra College for the event and that he was there to speak on the importance of voting.

"It was not any kind of a rally for any candidates or ballot propositions or anything else," Hedlund said.

Foster said she attended last week's event on an invitation from Sierra. She said she was bothered that a follow up speaker was not lined up after Steinberg to offer the students a different perspective on Proposition 30, which the senator touted and told students to vote for in the upcoming election.

Proposition 30, or the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act, would increase the state sales tax to 7.5 percent and imposes tax increases on those who make more than $250,000 annually. The funds generated from Proposition 30 would go toward public education at all levels, including community colleges.

Foster said in an email to the Journal that she thinks Steinberg violated Government Code 8314, which states that it is unlawful for any elected state official to use or permit others to use state resources for campaign activity. She also named Education Code 7054, which states that no public funding, services or supplies can be used to urge the support or defeat of any ballot measure. She has not filed a violation regarding the matter.

Paul Berger, president of the Auburn Democrats, agrees that another speaker offering a different perspective should have been lined up, but also said anything that makes young voters aware of the issues is positive for the upcoming election.

"I think college campuses should encourage politicians to come speak to students because there's a lot of apathy out there today and anything they can do to get students involved in the political process is a good thing," Berger said.

"Please, get out and vote for Proposition 30. Your education and the education of those coming up behind you is depending on it," Steinberg said at the event last Tuesday.

Diane Wright, spokesperson for Sierra College, said invitations for the political awareness event were sent out to representatives on all ends of the political spectrum. At a fair before Steinberg's speech, representatives for and against multiple propositions were in attendance, along with Placer County democrats, republicans, libertarians, Tea Party, and other political organizations from surrounding areas.

No representative for a "No" vote on Proposition 30 was at the event, but Wright said an invitation was sent to a "No on 30" campaign.

"In a college one of the goals professors should have is to develop independent thinking for students, not brainwash them," Foster said.

Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a conservative organization that focuses on tax law, is against Proposition 30 because he views it was just another way to get tax hikes passed through threatening public education and that visits to colleges campuses by politicians is one more way to make that threat.

"If students skirted the rules on their exams the way politicians are they would be expelled," Vosburgh said.

Tim Bittle, staff attorney with Howard Jarvis, said no matter a candidate's position on an issue, if they're brought into a public institution and no public funds are used no laws have been broken.

"They can certainly take a position on measures in their own free time and campaign for them; they don't give up their first amendment rights because they take office," Bittle said. "If the college provided the PA system and spent money to promote the event then that could present a problem."

Sue Michaels, marketing and public relations director for Sierra College, said on Monday that the college provided the theater for Steinberg to speak with no charge to the political science club, but that "it did not cost more than opening the doors."

"We always support our clubs when they have events as long as they are not illegal or incite violence in any way," Michaels said.

Wright said under Sierra College Administrative Procedure 5400, student organizations, like the political science club, "act independently of the institution" and that a club's activities "may be political or religious in nature with no relationship to the district."

"The reason they are able to do what they did is because they are a student club rather than an event being held by the district," Wright said. "Students have the right to free speech, so that gives them an opening the district and us employees would not have."

Contact Amber Marra at Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.