Democrat Jerry Brown, who wrote the landmark 1974 state law to curb
special interests’ power in politics, has raised nearly $10 million in
gift contributions to his pet charities from some of the interests –
utilities, casino operators and health care organizations – that he
oversees as state attorney general, state records show.
Brown, a former two-term governor and likely candidate for the job
in next year’s election, has raised $9.65 million since 2006 in
"behested" payments – or contributions made in someone’s name – to the
charities, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
That outstrips Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a prodigious political
fundraiser, who has solicited $7.4 million for his charities in the
With 10 months until the gubernatorial primary, Brown’s ability to
gather such sizable contributions underscores not only his clout as the
state’s chief law enforcement officer, but his perceived future
influence as a candidate for governor, experts say.
"We call it an end run around contributions limits," says Bob Stern
of the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies, who helped Brown
draft the Political Reform Act, which voters approved 35 years ago.
The charity contributions on Brown’s behalf have been made to the
Oakland Military Institute and the Oakland School for the Arts, two
charter schools he helped found.
Brown cites the schools as cornerstones of his achievements as
Oakland’s mayor from 1999 to 2007 – and mentions them on his Jerry
Brown 2010 Web page, Twitter and Facebook accounts, where he reaches
Brown’s spokesman, Scott Gerber, defended the contributions Tuesday,
saying the attorney general is duly proud of his leading role in
supporting the two inner-city schools, "which over nine years have
served thousands of deserving and talented students."
"They are outstanding institutions of learning" whose supporters
include U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, ex-Secretary of State George
Shultz, actors Clint Eastwood and Sean Penn and "outstanding citizens,
companies and foundations," Gerber said.
"Only a warped mind would deny these young people this golden
opportunity, particularly at a time when the state is making draconian
cuts to our public schools," Gerber added.
Still, state records show that many of Brown’s gift donors have no
apparent connection to the cause, while they have interests and
businesses that are subject to the attorney general’s oversight.
G4S Justice Services Inc. of Atlanta, which touts its expertise as
"a leading international provider of offender monitoring and community
supervision services," has donated $10,000 to Brown’s charities; Zenith
Insurance, a "worker’s compensation specialist" in Los Angeles County,
donated $95,000 since 2007.
The charitable Hearst Foundation gave $150,000 to Brown’s causes,
while Silicon Valley venture capitalist William Randolph Hearst III has
given $50,000 since 2006. Both are affiliated with the Hearst Corp.,
which publishes The Chronicle.
But a who’s-who of other charitable groups also donated, including
the Blum Family Foundation ($15,000), the Riordan Foundation ($25,000)
and the Stephen Bechtel Fund ($5,000).
Such "behested" gifts, unlike campaign contributions that are
limited by law, are solicited by officer holders and candidates – and
not subject to limits.
Such big donations are understandable from educational and
philanthropic organizations, Stern said, but in most other cases are a
sign of efforts to gain Brown’s ear.
"I doubt he would have the influence to raise this much money if he
weren’t in a position of authority" as the state’s top cop and consumer
advocate, Stern said. "It gives them great access. If I said, ‘Would
you give $50,000 to my favorite charity?’ and you do … and I call you
up the next day, I think you’d take my call."
Carmen Balber of Consumer Watchdog of Washington, D.C., said "in the
most ethical sense, the candidate does not control these payments."
"But they function the same as any other contribution that a
candidate requests a donor to make" in currying favor, she said, while
allowing the donor benefit of getting a charitable tax deduction.
Gerber called such allegations "nonsense," saying there is no underlying agenda in the efforts to raise money.
"Those schools are some of the best in California, they have some of
the best test scores in Oakland. … It’s something Jerry’s been
working on for nine years."
State records show the Oakland School for the Arts scores above
average while the military school ranks in the bottom third of state
schools based on standardized tests despite spending about $13,000 per
year on each student – about 50 percent more per child than the state
Who’s giving to Brown’s charities
of the $2.2 million in contributions this year to charities Attorney
General Jerry Brown set up to fund Oakland charter schools he helped
$250,000 – Lytton Rancheria, Santa Rosa
$125,000 – United Auburn Indian Community, Auburn (Placer County)
$50,000 – Rumsey Indian Rancheria, Brooks (Yolo County)
$5,000 each – Flynt Management, Beverly Hills;
Lucky Chances, Colma; California Commerce Club, Commerce (Los Angeles
County); Bicycle Casino, Bell Gardens (Los Angeles County)
$50,000 – Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
$35,000 – AT&T
$25,000 each – Intel, venture capitalist William Randolph Hearst III
$10,000 – Cisco Systems
$5,000 each – Google, Symantec
$25,000 – Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles
$25,000 each – Wal-Mart, Safeway
$15,000 – Robert Abernethy of Los Angeles
$5,000 each – Webcor, Forest City Residential Group, Shorenstein Realty
$3,800 – Pulte Homes
$90,000 – Clorox
$25,000 each – United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Washington, D.C.; Zenith Insurance
$15,000 – Hustler Magazine Publisher Larry Flynt
$10,000 – CBS Outdoor
$5,000 each – Dow Chemical, PepsiCo Inc.
Source: California Fair Political Practices Commission
Chronicle staff writer Jill Tucker contributed to this report. E-mail Carla Marinucci at [email protected].