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JUST WHO IS ON THE PAYROLL?

Even as Tom Strickland's campaign is in its infancy, questions continue to arise over his law firm's role as a clearinghouse for thousands of dollars in political donations. The players in the latest flap: two prominent Denver businessmen who somehow got listed in federal election records as "employees" of Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Strickland when they gave money to two U.S. senators at Norman Brownstein's behest. Depending on how--or why--the mistakes were made, they could lead to federal civil or criminal charges.

According to Federal Election Commission documents, Denver printing magnate Barry Hirschfeld and real estate developer Steven Chotin made $250 contributions to current Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's campaign on the same day in November 1991. Again on the same day in December 1994, Chotin and Hirschfeld made contributions to the campaign of Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman. Chotin wrote checks for $2,000, Hirschfeld for $300. On each occasion, according to FEC documents, Hirschfeld and Chotin were listed as "employees" of Brownstein Hyatt Farber & Strickland.

Too much holiday cheer?
Not likely. Chotin's assistant Laura Feld says a mistake must have been made when a "group" of checks from a Brownstein fundraiser all arrived in Washington, D.C. "[The FEC] must have assumed since they were all together, that everyone worked for Brownstein," says Feld. "I mean, Connie [Butler, Norman Brownstein's secretary] would call around and say she was collecting the checks, so they went all together."

But the same mistake four times? Barry Hirschfeld was equally perplexed when contacted last week by Westword. "I'm sure the solicitation came through Brownstein Hyatt, but I didn't put their names down as my employer," he says. "I wouldn't have. It's too complicated. I'll call Norman right now and try to find out."

It is conceivable that a person raising money for a candidate could "erroneously" fill in employer names in order to tag the donations, allowing the candidate to know exactly who's feathering his nest.

But Norman Brownstein insists that Hirschfeld and Chotin's mysterious appearance as Brownstein Hyatt employees must be the result of "lazy" staff members in Daschle's and Lieberman's Senate campaign offices.

"We don't fill out those forms," says Brownstein, "the campaign office does. Someone must have gotten really lazy and just put down our firm for everyone. Connie's going to call right now and get it taken care of."

The FEC's Kelly Huff says her agency can pursue fines against anyone intentionally providing false information on campaign records. Criminal charges could also be brought by the Justice Department's Office of Public Integrity. Whether the government would pursue such a complaint, says Huff, "usually depends on whether they were trying to knowingly corrupt the voting system.

 
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