California Attorney General Xavier Becerra suggested he would not independently investigate the University of California after a state audit claimed its President Janet Napolitano kept a secret fund of $175 million while raising student tuition.
Becerra said Sunday that the audit was an issue for the California State Legislature to handle, even amid concerns over Napolitano’s interference with the audit.
“I think it is appropriate for the State Legislature to closely examine the audit … I believe the president of the UC system will continue to come forward with information; I think we have to get to the bottom of this,” Becerra said on NBC4’s “News Conference” program.
The report discovered a hidden reserve that had been growing thanks to Napolitano's office overestimating the 10-campus university system's needs.
Any formal probe into Napolitano’s office would involve questioning of the UC Regents, the governing body of the UC-system responsible for fiscal oversight. According to the California Constitution, it is “entirely independent of all political and sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its Regents and in the administration of its affairs.”
Napolitano, who served as secretary of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, is herself a former Regent, and some members and former members of the board are prominent Democrats. They include: Richard Blum, husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; California Gov. Jerry Brown, who appointed Becerra to his post as attorney general; and California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
Becerra was asked if he would be more inclined to probe the UC system if the Board of Regents were stacked with Republican members with whom he did not have political relationships.
“I will go after any entity that is taking advantage of the California public, especially our tax resources,” Becerra said, acknowledging the familiar names and expressing confidence that the individuals would “come before the legislature” and “give the information we need.”
“If not,” Becerra said, “then people should be careful.”
The Board of Regents voted in January to increase in-state tuition and fees by $336 – or 2.5 percent – next academic year. But due to the findings of the audit, some lawmakers are calling for a reversal. The board is scheduled to meet on May 18 in a Closed Session and plans to discuss the audit of the administrative functions of Napolitano’s office, according to the minutes posted on their website.
A source within the Republican caucus of the California Legislature told Fox News that while they’d like to say Becerra’s decision was a “cop out,” the proper channel for further investigation is through Speaker Rendon.
On Monday, Republican members of the Assembly sent a letter to Rendon calling for a subpoena of documents relating to the audit.
“We believe this is not a partisan or political issue, but an issue of trust in our institutions,” the letter reads.
“We should not fear the truth, in fact I believe it is one of our key roles on behalf of our constituents to seek it out zealously," Republican Assemblyman Dante Acosta told Fox News. "The legislature has the power to issue a subpoena, and my Republican colleagues and I are urging the Speaker to take this necessary step to bring transparency to the UC Office of the President. California’s students, parents, and taxpayers deserve answers.”
Rendon's office pushed back, however, making clear they will not grant the request at this stage.
"The legislature does have the power to subpoena various agencies but that’s only done in cases where there is criminal malfeasance. But in this case, the speaker hasn’t seen that. At this point, he will not be asking for a subpoena,” a Rendon spokesperson told Fox News.