Despite protests, Palin visit raises record amount for school

Patty Guerra
Photos by RICH PEDRONCELLI / The Associated Press Left: Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is escorted into a fundraising dinner by California State University, Stanislaus President Hamid Shirvani in Turlock, Calif., on Friday. Palin's appearance drew protesters including Mariane Barbosa, 22, above, and pro-Palin backers.

TURLOCK, Calif. -- Sarah Palin discussed civic education, freedom of speech and her infamous "bendable straws" demand at California State University, Stanislaus on Friday night.

In a 34-minute speech, she poked fun at controversy sparked by the March announcement she would appear at the public school and the outcry over her confidential contract, a portion of which students said they found in a university trash bin.

"Do I have my straws?" she said, referring to the contract with the school's nonprofit foundation. She said that she felt sorry for the Washington Speakers Bureau, which on her behalf negotiated "with the entire state of California."

The gala was the most lucrative single fundraiser in the university's history, netting more than $200,000. It thrust the campus into the national spotlight, with Democratic leaders condemning her confidential fee and liberal groups calling her a poor choice for the university's 50th anniversary gala because she had no ties to academia or the area.

Her visit was met by a daylong protest; about 100 critics chanted slogans and carried signs labeling her "Sinister Sarah." Another crowd carried signs supporting Palin.

Inside, a prolonged standing ovation greeted the former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor as she entered the dining area.

She repeatedly referred to Ronald Reagan's optimism. She said felt a kinship with the farmers in the room because she's the owner of a family fishing business.

She called for a return to common sense in the country and took President Barack Obama to task for what she sees as soft views on the war on terror and immigration.

"We must embrace our entrepreneurial drive, and allow America to remain the world's standard-bearer for excellence," she said.

Palin took a shot at those who have launched an investigation into the finances of the university's nonprofit foundation in response to her confidential contract.

"Attorney General Jerry Brown and friends, this is California, do you really not have anything better to do?"

Her presence kept Turlock buzzing throughout the day.

Even as waiters set the tables, protesters gathered and the guest of honor landed in Modesto, people were trying to get into the dinner.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook all day with people still wanting tickets," foundation President Matt Swanson said Friday afternoon.

The gala brought in $450,000 gross. University officials estimated they spent $190,000 and got $50,000 in in-kind donations, such as drinks and supplies.

Black, gold and crystal table settings, white flowers, lights and gauzy drapes transformed the university's cafeteria for the $500-per-ticket event. Swanson said the foundation sold about 370 tickets, in addition to several higher-priced sponsorships.

Guests dined on a five-course dinner that included buckwheat blini with smoked salmon, caprese salad, seared scallops and filet and halibut. They were greeted with a signed copy Palin's autobiography, "Going Rogue," on each seat.

Temporary fences manned by event staff kept protesters outside the interior of the campus. At one point, campus police trying to move some tea party supporters out of the driveway were met with resistance as people pushed on barricades.

Protesters and supporters at one point argued with each other, prompting police to put up more barricades around the scene.

The Modesto (Calif.) Bee