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To mark our 30th anniversary, we’ve reached into our archives to highlight key events and players who made a difference since we made our debut. A version of the following article appeared in the March 30, 1992, edition…
When Jerry Brown talks about his life in the 1980s, he typically launches into an impassioned tale of international travel, spiritual searching, and heightened awareness of world suffering. What he seldom reveals is that, during the same period, he worked for a powerful corporate law firm, trading on his political stature to secure a $50,000-a-year perch that required only a few hours’ effort each week. It is a little-known chapter in the strange saga of Edmund G. Brown Jr., the iconoclastic former two-term governor of California, now mounting his third presidential bid. Brown spent seven years as of counsel in the Los Angeles law offices of national firms — first with New York’s Reavis & McGrath and then, when the firm was part of a major merger, with Houston’s Fulbright & Jaworski. And he remained on his firm’s payroll even though he was absent from the country for months at a time in what amounted to a subsidized spiritual journey. Brown’s opponents say that he conveniently omits mention of his lucrative arrangement. “To appear on the national scene and portray yourself as a fighter against special interests and political power, and then make $50,000 for doing nothing .�.�. it’s just another example of the fact that there’s no core to Jerry Brown,” says James Carville, campaign consultant to Bill Clinton. Brown’s defenders dismiss the charge. “These arrangements are as old as America,” says David Rosenberg, who worked for Brown during his final years as governor. Harry Hathaway, managing partner of Fulbright & Jaworski’s Los Angeles office, confirmed Brown’s disclosure of the salary he was making from the firm in 1990 and 1991, which was $4,167 a month. In exchange, Brown had no time commitment to the firm “other than to make himself available for communication at some time during one day each week,” Hathaway stated. Politicians’ ties to law firms have come under increasing scrutiny in recent campaigns. Indeed, Brown has sought to make such relations an issue, arguing that Gov. Clinton steered state business to the law firm of his wife Hillary. Clinton, in turn, has in recent days accused Brown’s law firm of billing California taxpayers $178,000 in legal fees for their efforts to assist Brown in overturning state limits on campaign contributions. Brown denies any wrongdoing. Richard Keatinge, managing partner of the Los Angeles office of New York’s Reavis & McGrath, had for many years been a friend and political supporter of the Brown family. Shortly after Brown lost a 1982 Senate election, Keatinge approached him about an of counsel job with the firm. Brown signed on in July 1984. Five years later, Reavis & McGrath joined forces with Houston’s Fulbright & Jaworski. “The agreement was that Jerry would come in once a week, but it was an on-call arrangement,” says Keatinge. Brown severed his ties to Fulbright & Jaworski late last summer, not long before he launched his dark-horse bid for the Democratic nomination. Meanwhile, Brown continues to hammer away at the corruption he sees in the American political process. “Of counsel relationships between law firms and politicians are quite common, and in Brown’s case it’s hard to judge,” says Michael Waldman, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “Maybe he had an epiphany about lowering the money in politics while he was sitting behind a desk at the law firm.”
Update: Brown defeated Bill Clinton in the Connecticut primary in March 1992 and cemented his place as Clinton’s chief challenger for the Democratic nomination. His insurgent campaign, of course, didn’t last, and Clinton sailed to the top of the ticket and eventually the presidency. After losing the nomination, Brown hosted a radio show and remained politically active. In 1998, he mounted the first stage of his most recent electoral comeback, winning the first of two terms as mayor of Oakland, Calif. And in 2006, he returned to statewide office, capturing the California attorney general’s office in a landslide. Brown left the governor’s office before the state’s term limits law took effect — so now there’s buzz that Brown may be ready to try to return to the state’s top job.

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