FOIL request reveals UB paid $275,000 for Hillary Clinton speech

Jul 17, 2014

A Freedom of Information request revealed the University at Buffalo paid 275-thousand dollars for Hillary Clinton's Distinguished Speakers Series speech last fall.  In this Focus on Education report WBFO'S Eileen Buckley says the FOIL request was issued by the Public Accountability Initiative based on Buffalo's West Side.

Hillary Clinton on the big screen at last October's UB Distinguished Speakers event.
Credit WBFO News file photo

"With rising tuition at UB, I think it's really important that these transactions see the light of day for people to decide if the school is spending money wisely," said  Robert Galbraith,  research analyst with Public Accountability.

Galbraith tells WBFO News he was surprised by the quick turnaround from the FOIL request he made on July 3rd.  By Wednesday morning he did received a nine-page document from UB.  It was an actual contract by UB's Foudation  and Clinton.  But Galbraith was seeking more.

"Brian T. Hines, UB's Records Access Officer says that more information may be forthcoming as it becomes practical. UB is sort of tricky to get information from," said Galbraith.

UB issued a written statement saying no tuition or state funds were used to pay for the speech and that it was funded through the UB Foundation.

"No state funding or student tuition revenue is used to fund the Distinguished Speakers Series and the fees of guest speakers, including that of Secretary Clinton, university officials said.  The speaking fee and all other appearance costs are financed entirely through ticket sales, sponsorships and endowments established specifically to support the university’s Distinguished Speakers Series.   

The contract with the Harry Walker Agency for the speaking engagement was released by the university after it conducted a review of its records in response to public information requests made this month by members of the media and the public."

The Foundation has been under recent scrutiny. This past spring UB President Satish Tripathi told the UB Faculty Senate as a not-for-profit  501-C-3 Corporation je doesn't have legal authority to publicly reveal the Foundation's budget.  But Galbraith points out that the Distinguished Speakers Series is partial funded by the Student and Graduate Associations -- which are mandatory fees for students. 

Hillary Clinton last October at UB.
Credit WBFO News file photo

"Regardless of where the money came from it's still important to consider you know other things they could have spent the money on," noted Galbraith.  "It's important that transactions like that to be done out in the open so you know UB constituents can decide for themselves whether or not it was a good idea."

The detailed contract also noted that Clinton required UB to pay for a presidential glass teleprompter, but during the event Clinton walked the stage for most of her speech not relying on the prompter. 

UB noted the speaking fee and other appearance costs are financed through ticket sales, sponsorships and endowments. The event was a sell-out last October.  The University said about "6,500 community members and students attended Secretary Clinton’s speech in UB’s Alumni Arena."