Lawsuit: Calif. college president illegally endorsed tax-hike ballot amendment during graduation speech [VIDEO]

Charles C. Johnson | Contributor

A taxpayer watchdog group has filed a lawsuit against the California State University system for what it claims is illegal electioneering in favor of Proposition 30, a $50 billion sales and income tax increase backed by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association’s lawsuit alleges that the publicly funded CSU improperly used taxpayer resources to solicit student support for the ballot initiative.

The Daily Caller has obtained a brief video of Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond endorsing the tax measure during the college’s May 12, 2012 commencement ceremony.

The California Education Code bars the use of government resources for political purposes and for “urging the support or defeat of any ballot measure.” Richmond’s remarks, part of which were captured on video, appear to directly violate that law.

In the speech, Richmond encouraged his audience to “consider supporting the tax measure that will likely be on the fall ballot.”

Reached for comment, university spokesman Paul Mann denied that those words constituted a solicitation to vote for the ballot initiative.

Richmond, he told TheDC in an email, “did not advocate for a ballot measure at Commencement and he never tells people how to vote. Rather, he encouraged people to communicate their support of higher education to their elected representatives in Sacramento.”

And despite Richmond’s request that graduation attendees “consider supporting the tax measure,” Mann insisted that he only “encouraged people to inform themselves about Prop 30,” an effort that he described as “education, not advocacy.”

Richmond did direct audience members to contact Gov. Brown and members of the California legislator, and pulled out his mobile phone to demonstrate.

“Here is what I want you do, and I will do it with you. On your phone web browser, or later today on a computer, visit Humboldt.edu/advocate,” Richmond said. “That is our advocacy website. Click on the action called: ‘Send Sacramento a Graduation Message!’ Then follow directions — you can use the message that’s there or write your own.”

That Web page carries an explicit lobbying message titled “Support Higher Ed — Vote in November.” It claims the defeat of Proposition 30 will result in cuts to the school’s government-funded budget.

According to the California Faculty Association, Richmond’s annual compensation is $297,870 plus a $62,000 allowance for housing and a car. His salary is higher than the Chief Academic Officer of the CSU system, and higher than the salaries of the presidents of CSU Fullerton and CSU Northridge. Both of those schools serve more than three times the number of students as Humboldt.

Executive pay packages for CSU and University of California administrators have increased in recent years, even as overall budgets have decreased. State Senator Leland Lee, a San Francisco Democrat, has introduced legislation that would prohibit those raises when forecasted budgets for the next fiscal year are the same or lower than the previous year.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association opposes the Proposition 30 tax increase. Its lawsuit also cites Cal State Monterey Bay professor Ernest Stromberg, who allegedly sent students an email advocating passage of the ballot measure. The email, according to the lawsuit, said students would receive a $498 refund if the initiative were to pass.

Richmond’s office did not respond to a request for comment and ignored requests for a complete video of the commencement ceremony. His office did provide the prepared text of Richmond’s May 12 speech.

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