TRENTON, NJ – Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman John DiMaio prohibiting colleges from using more than $10,000 in state funds to pay for speakers, including commencement addresses, has been approved by the General Assembly.

“Paying exorbitant speaker fees is an expense taxpayers cannot afford, especially when tuitions are being increased because state funding is being reduced,” said DiMaio (R-Warren). “Paying Snooki $32,000 to tell Rutgers graduates to ‘Study hard, but party harder,’ is an outrageous waste of money. Taxpayers and students deserve better.”

Under the bill, the state will debit from an institution’s state operating aid an amount equal to the amount paid – above $10,000 - by a college to a speaker for any violations. 

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DiMaio’s original legislation called for no state funds to be used for commencement speaker fees, but it was amended in committee.

“Taxpayer money should not be used to pay speaker fees,” said DiMaio. “If colleges want to pay speakers they should raise the money from private sources. I agreed to the amendment, however, because checks and balances are necessary. I’d rather have the $10,000 cap than no cap at all.”  

Last year, Kean University paid retired astronaut Mark Kelly and photographer Brandon Stanton a combined $80,000 to speak at its graduation ceremony. Half of the money came from the schools’ general fund. In 2001, Rutgers paid commencement speaker Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi $32,000, using mandatory student activity fees paid by its undergraduates.