By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
part 2 of 2
Strickland sits in the darkness at the Trinity Grille and shakes his head almost imperceptibly when asked about the Coelho scandal. "I'm not specifically familiar with those facts," he says finally. "I don't recall ever having heard of it before."
When pressed, he loses his newly regained cool. "I'm responsible for my own conduct," he sputters, "and I'm happy to respond to issues involving it. This other"--he waves a hand at the copy of a newspaper article--"has no relevancy to my candidacy."
Voters, though, may find it relevant to Strickland's campaign that Brownstein was a boardmember of MDC [Mizel Development Corporation] Holdings, the Colorado real estate development and financing firm that in November 1992 paid a multimillion-dollar penalty to settle a government lawsuit over its role in Silverado's failure.
In 1990 and 1991, MDC was also the subject of separate investigations by the Denver Election Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation over its alleged laundering of campaign donations to a variety of local, state and national political candidates. A third investigation was conducted by Arapahoe County District Attorney Bob Gallagher in the spring of 1991. Though Gallagher's investigation took place six months after Brownstein resigned from the company's board, it targeted activities that allegedly took place during his tenure. In a report released in March 1991, Gallagher reported that MDC had paid subcontractors to make political donations to a host of candidates. Two subsidiaries of MDC Holdings paid fines for violations of federal election law, and three employees, including Gary Mandarich, the president of MDC's Richmond Homes subsidiary, pled guilty to charges of campaign-money laundering. The president of MDC, Gary's brother David Mandarich, was indicted on charges of campaign-money laundering, but the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
It wasn't the first public embarrassment for MDC. In 1988 Brownstein and other MDC boardmembers were sued by MDC stockholders for allegedly trading with insider information. Brownstein and the other boardmembers settled the suit two years later for $20 million, $16 million of which was paid by MDC's insurer.
Today, the links between Brownstein Hyatt and the financial kingpins of the 1980s remain. According to documents filed with the Congressional Office of Records and Registration, Brownstein Hyatt currently lobbies for MDC Asset Investors, a real estate investment trust. The executive vice president of MDC Asset Investors and the vice president of MDC Holdings is Spencer Browne, a former law partner at Brownstein Hyatt. (All Brownstein will say about his dealings with MDC is to confirm that he served on the MDC board and was "very happy with my association with that company.")
According to the Congressional Record, MDC Asset Investors paid Brownstein Hyatt $26,654 in the last eighteen months to lobby for its interests in Washington. Among the other clients Strickland's firm lobbies for in Washington: The Liggett Corporation, a tobacco company that produces more than 10 billion cigarettes every year under the brand names of Chesterfield, Eve, Lark and L&M; Louisiana Pacific Corporation, the international lumber conglomerate; Pfizer, the $30.5 billion drug company; and Apollo Investors, an investment firm started by former Drexel Burnham executive and junk-bond trader Leon Black.
"That has nothing to do with me," Strickland says of the firm's lobbying efforts in Washington--a statement that borders on the bizarre, given that, as a partner and shareholder in Brownstein Hyatt, he presumably shares in the resulting earnings. Strickland, however, refuses to disclose what percentage of the firm he owns--ostensibly because he doesn't want people to be able to figure out the firm's overall income after his FEC income disclosure statement comes out in late October. And he says voters need not worry about conflicts of interest that might arise from Brownstein Hyatt's lobbying work should he take office. "If elected," he says, "I'm vowing not to have any lobbying contact whatsoever with the firm for as long I'm a senator."
If Norman Brownstein and other law partners such as Steve Farber have assumed high public profiles at "The Firm," handling everything from the city's contract negotiations with the Winter Park ski area to the recent Pepsi Center deal, Tom Strickland has done most of his legal and political operating behind the scenes. Achieving the kind of name recognition that both Gale Norton and Wayne Allard already enjoy will be a challenge. And the fact that many longtime Coloradans still confuse him with former state Senate president (and Republican) Ted Strickland isn't going to help much.
"People have to get to know me, know my name, recognize me," says Strickland, who, unlike his father, speaks without a hint of a Texas accent. "It's a big state, with three and a half million people. That's going to be a lot of hard work."
It's also going to cost a lot of money. But that's not a great concern to Strickland. While the other candidates scramble to raise money for what many believe will be a $3 million to $5 million race, one Democratic veteran reports Strickland recently raised $100,000 in one month "without even picking up the phone."
That's hardly surprising considering that Brownstein's name is synonymous with big money. National Journal magazine lists him among the "Top 20" Democratic fundraisers. Since the 1991 election cycle, Brownstein's firm has given $37,500 to the Democratic Party in what's known as "soft money"--donations made to a political party for get-out-the-vote efforts. Brownstein as an individual has contributed $48,769 since 1991 to literally dozens of Democratic candidates (and a few Republicans) across the United States.