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Photo: State Senator Yee

Taxpayers are one step nearer to finding out more about wheeling and dealing inside the highly-secretive San Diego State University Research Foundation and its sister group, the Campanile Foundation, as a result of a compromise reached between the state university system, the University of California, and Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco.

The deal was reported by today's SFGate.com:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/26/MN971JKSNG.DTL&type=newsbayarea

A long-time critic of university secrecy, Yee introduced Senate Bill 8 to require that foundations of each campus, as well as other "auxiliary organizations," such as the giant Aztec Shops, Ltd that controls everything from the SDSU bookstore to its dining halls to faculty club, be subject to the state's public records act.

That would allow citizens to obtain financial books, memos, emails, audits, and related documents from the organizations, at least theoretically making them more accountable to taxpayers, some of whom have raised questions about the foundations' campus real estate development activities.

In the past the foundations have also been accused of using their secret status to slip fat lecture fees to politicians and set up sizable administrative perks, such as a 1999 effort by then-SDSU president Steve Weber to have Padres owner John Moores pick up the tab for a lavish presidential mansion in Coronado.

That was alluded to in a July 1999 letter to Moores from university VP Theresa Mendoza regarding the recently founded Campanile Foundation, set up by Weber. The document was obtained from Weber's office under the public records act:

"Dear John:

"Thank you for agreeing to become a charter board member of San Diego State University's new Philanthropic Foundation. It is wonderful to have recruited such "all stars" for our newly emerging board and we appreciate the time and commitment you generously give to our university.

"I especially want to thank you for your interest in helping with a Presidential House, the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program (HTM) and for your generous offer to establish two full scholarships for meritorious Hispanic women.

"I will, as promised keep you up to date on the Coronado property, wait to hear further from you on the HTM Program and suggest some language for the scholarship selection process for you and Becky to review.

"I am looking forward to working with you and the Board of Directors in repositioning San Diego State University throughout the region and helping ensure that SDSU programs continue to be closely aligned to the needs of the region and that the intentions of every donor are met.

"Once again, welcome aboard. You are one incredible man!"

(In August 2000, Moores and his real estate partner, downtown property mogul Malin Burnham, along with unidentified others, ponied up a reported $1.5 million to buy and renovate a presidential mansion for Weber in Alvarado Estates next door to the campus. The property was donated to the Campanile Foundation.)

As part of Yee's public records act compromise, under which the state's two university systems agreed to withdraw their opposition to his bill, the identity of donors to the foundations will continue to be withheld.

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Comments

monaghan May 26, 2011 @ 2:27 p.m.

Perseverance and sticktoitiveness pay off -- both for Readerwriter Matt Potter, the longtime sole local critic of operations at SDSU's Research Foundation and Campanile Foundation and for Democratic State Senator Leland Yee, a politician and public servant.

It is ironic that the deal to open some of these previously secret foundation records is struck just as SDSU President Steve Weber retires to his home in Maine. Still no names of foundation donors -- why are they so reluctant to be known? -- but some sunshine is better than none at all.

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Visduh May 27, 2011 @ 8:41 p.m.

For a very long time there has been something very smelly on Montezuma Mesa. An operation like SDSU hardly seemed ripe for scandal, yet Weber pulled it off, and now he's going to ride off into the sunset with no publicity about his cohorts and his under-the-table dealings. It is amazing how some sharp operator like Weber can have these sterling academic credentials, yet be a behind-the-scenes wheeler dealer like some Chicago pol.

Well, at least the next pres of SDSU will not be able to grumble about his cost of housing when he arrives in a few weeks. Weber sure took care of that, didn't he?

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