Brown rakes in cash for pet causes

By Kathy Woods | Jul 30, 2009

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-Are they veiled political contributions to get a foot in the door with California Attorney General Jerry Brown or are they genuine charitable givings?

Those are questions being raised about charity contributions made on behalf of Brown to the Oakland Military Institute and the Oakland School for the Arts, two charter schools the Democrat helped found.

The "gift" donors are from such entities as utilities, casino operators and health care providers, some of which Brown oversees as the state's chief legal officer. Brown is widely believed to be preparing for a 2010 run for governor.

Brown Spokesman Scott Gerber, speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, defended the contributions, stating that Brown takes pride in supporting the two inner-city schools, "which over nine years have served thousands of deserving and talented students."

State records shows that test scores from the Oakland School for the Arts are above average, while the military school ranks in the bottom third of state schools.

Bob Stern of the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies told the newspaper: "Such big donations are understandable from educational and philanthropic organizations, but in most other cases are a sign of efforts to gain Brown's ear."

Unlike campaign contributions, which are limited by law, so-called "behested" gifts are not. They are solicited by office holders and candidates.

Since 2006, Brown has raised $9.65 million for his pet causes, something that observers say shows his influence and clout as states chief legal officer.

The newspaper reported that many of the donors have no connection to the cause they supported in the name of Brown. They include: G4S Justice Services Inc. of Atlanta a provider of offender monitoring and community supervision services, which donated $10,000; Worker's compensation specialist Zenith Insurance of Los Angeles County donated $95,000.

If Brown weren't in a position of authority over some of the businesses that gave to his pet causes he wouldn't have the influence to raise the large amounts of money he has.

"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."

Gerber says it is all "nonsense" and there is no underlying agenda to raise money.

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