Happy Brownstein Anniversary Day: Was It Good for You?

Norm Brownstein (left) and Steve Farber founded their firm fifty years ago.
Norm Brownstein (left) and Steve Farber founded their firm fifty years ago.
Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
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November 1, 2018, was officially Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck 50th Anniversary Day in Colorado, thanks to a proclamation by Governor John Hickenlooper.

But really, isn't every day in this state Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck day?

The law firm founded by Steve Farber and Norm Brownstein with childhood friend Jack Hyatt in 1968, the same year they joined the Colorado bar, has grown to become the 800-pound gorilla not just in meeting rooms and boardrooms in Denver, but around the country. The firm's connections are powerful, and cross party lines: One of its lawyers, Jason Dunn, was named by President Donald Trump to become the new U.S. Attorney for Colorado. Today Brownstein et al. is the second-most-profitable lobbying outfit in the country, the proclamation notes, and the firm also has offices in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.

Still, when there's a hot political issue in Colorado, the Brownstein firm usually has a seat at the table...and sometimes more than one. For decades, Farber was front and center on big city issues, whether it was pushing for the construction of the Pepsi Center or bringing the Democratic National Convention to Denver in 2008. He was so omnipresent in local politics that when Denver needed a new city attorney, I suggested on Colorado Inside Out that Denver just hire Farber for the gig, so that he could just talk to himself and save a lot of time and effort.

Former legislator Doug Friednash did become city attorney under Mayor Michael Hancock, then moved over to the State Capitol to become chief of staff for Hickenlooper. When he left that post in late 2017, it was to rejoin former employer Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a move that cost the firm a $210,000-a-year contract with the state, which the governor canceled in order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

But by then, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck had quite a consolation prize: a $125,000-a-month retainer from the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. Although other lobbying outfits stopped doing business with the Saudis in the wake of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi on October 2, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck did not.

And that set off journalist David Sirota, who'd already noted Brownstein et al.'s involvement with the campaign against Initiative 112 in this week's Westword cover story that he co-authored with Chase Woodruff when he saw a tweet from the firm touting the proclamation.

"NOT THE ONION: While campaigning for president, Dem Gov. John Hickenlooper today issued an official state proclamation celebrating a corporate lobbying firm that represents the Saudi government. Literally, the governor has named November 1st after this lobbying firm. #copolitics," Sirota wrote in the first in what would become a series of tweets, one of which noted that the firm had just made a sizable contribution to Giddy Up, the national leadership PAC that Hickenlooper established on September 1.

But then, the Brownstein firm has always been generous; the proclamation notes that it contributed more than $22.5 million to nonprofits over the past 25 years, and donated more than 10,000 pro bono hours to various causes.

The governor's office issues averages about 600 ceremonial proclamations a year; they're usually requested by organizations to mark major events and anniversaries.

"We do proclamations by request for many Colorado-based employers," says Hickenlooper in a statement. "We use proclamations ceremonially to recognize unique philanthropic or civil contributions to our communities. These proclamations do not create state holidays; they designate a single day to honor a person or entity.

"American institutions that work with the Saudi government are uniquely situated to demonstrate the best of American values — including freedom of the press and accountability in government," the governor's statement continues. "We urge any entity that interacts with the Saudis to guide them appropriately and encourage them to seek justice for Jamal Khashoggi and ensure that incidents like his tragic death never happen again."

Earlier in the day, Hickenlooper had told 9News that the proclamation was "unfortunate" timing. "Certainly now, we will have a process where we look at this more closely."

Maybe his office can ask Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to help.

Update: This post was updated at 6 p.m. November 2 to include Governor Hickenlooper's statement.

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