Westlands' 101st Senator

By Lloyd G. Carter

               Not only is lawyer/lobbyist Norman Brownstein collecting a $20,000 a month retainer from the Westlands Water District in western Fresno and Kings counties (western San Joaquin Valley) but his law firm is heavily invested in a Mojave Desert groundwater mining scheme while simultaneously representing the San Diego Water Authority, which wants to buy that precious groundwater.  Does anyone see the potential for a conflict of interest here? And do any of those hard-pressed Westland growers wonder where their money is going as they see their water supply continually cut back?  Other than adding three Brownstein attorneys to the cadre of water attorneys Westlands already employs, what, exactly has Brownstein done for his fat Westlands monthly paycheck?

               One thing for sure.  Some members of the august U.S. Senate absolutely dote on Brownstein,  who, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, was honored in the Congressional Record (Vol. 159, Number 4, at [Senate pages] S3837-S3838) on May 13 with effusive praise from Colorado Senator Mark Udall.

               Udall said his words were shared by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Colorado's other U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, former managing director at the Colorado-based Anschutz Company.

Udall opened his remarks as follows:

   "Norm Brownstein is someone who many Americans may not know, but he is someone who has had an indelible effect on our Nation's public policy  over the past several decades. 

    At root, Norm's story is an American success story. A Coloradan, a husband, a father of three, and a grandfather of four, Norm is someone who advocates passionately on behalf of the causes in which he believes. He is a man who rose from nothing to be involved at the apex of many of our country's most important political debates.

  We are proud today to speak on the floor of the United States Senate on behalf of a man known by many of us as the ``101st Senator,'' to wish him a happy birthday, and, on behalf of so many of our colleagues, to let the American people know a little bit about this man.

  The son of a Russian immigrant, and an orphan in his teenage years, Norm was not afforded the opportunities granted to many others who find success.  And yet, despite his hardships, Norm excelled at academics, and, while working part time at a bicycle shop, became the first in his family to graduate from college.

  After getting his degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he went on to get a law degree there. Norm may have done well in school, but in the late 1960s the Nation's top firms were not as hospitable as they should have been to talented Jewish lawyers. But that did not stop him. Norm and his childhood friend Steve Farber decided to open up their own firm in 1968 and away they went.

 Today, that firm--Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck--has 240 lawyers and consultants and 10 offices."

  Sen. Udall continued:

    "At first [at the start of his career], Norm was not involved in politics--instead focusing on building his firm through real estate and other traditional legal work.  But as Norm's legal practice grew, so too did his community involvement, as well as his interest in policy and politics.  Norm's firm already was involved very much in Denver and Colorado from a civic standpoint as well as with Colorado's political leaders.

   But Norm decided to take it to the next level and work with as many political leaders in the country as he could, both Democrats and Republicans. But, unlike so many who develop political relationships to pursue a narrow personal agenda, Norm pursued these political relationships based on his love of Israel and his desire to promote America's relationship with our most important ally in the Middle East.

   He joined the board of AIPAC, the American/Israel Public Affairs Committee, and if a Member of Congress supported Israel, Norm worked with that Member, to help them help the United States and Israel. This went on for decades. After a while, Norm knew so many Senators so well, he was presented in 2003 with a photograph of this Chamber, with the signature of every senator in the body at that time, to go with a plaque previously signed by several of our colleagues with the title `our 101st Senator'."

Sen. Udall added:

   "Over the years, folks would ask for Norm's help in Washington, D.C.,  and eventually he decided to open an office in Washington in the late-1990s. Like his challenging childhood, and his rough introduction to the legal community, Norm faced numerous obstacles in opening a DC office operating out of Denver.

   But as with everything else he set his mind to, this effort also thrived. Today, Brownstein's DC office has risen from a meager shop of two people in 1997 to being at the top of its field.

   In a tribute to Norm's many decades of work and successes, the Smithsonian Institution recently honored him in a permanent exhibit displaying 89 Americans who have had a profound impact on America's politics and policy. His colleagues in this exhibit include a who's who of major American political figures and business leaders including: our former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, the current House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, our current U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the business icon and entrepreneur Steve Case, and the list goes on.

  It is not easy to be mentioned on a list of the most influential people in our Nation's political discourse when you are not in government. So it makes us proud that such a list would include a homegrown lawyer from Denver.

   And through all of his policy and political work, Norm has always remained true to his core--helping Israel and helping the people of Colorado."

 

After listing some of Brownstein's legislative accomplishments, Sen. Udall concluded:

   "Norm's incredible life story is one that could and should be instructive to us in these partisan times. His talent and work ethic are enormous. His love of the United States and Israel is limitless. And his affection for so many of us here in Congress is 100 percent genuine. And while his passion for politics and public policy is boundless, Norm does not care if you are a Democrat or a Republican. Instead, he just cares about you the person. Partisanship is a dirty word to Norm. We should all take a page from his playbook.

   There are many of us here in the Congress who know Norm Brownstein as a friend and we are truly blessed. We hope we have helped you get to know him a little bit better too. Happy birthday to a great Coloradan-- a truly great American."

 

               All that effusive praise and not one mention that Brownstein is, in reality, a mere lobbyist, an influence peddler, and that he charges clients like Westlands $20,000 a month so that he can "help" them in Washington, D.C. politics. Last year, that lobbying "help" provided the Brownstein law firm $22.5 million in income.  Doing good while doing well, as they say.

               Also, there was no mention in Udall's remarks that Brownstein's youngest son went to prison last year for insider trading in his father's account.  No mention of the recent spate of insider trader SEC complaint filings against Denver businessmen who are clients, friends or social acquaintances of Brownstein.

               Indeed,  in his remarks, Sen. Udall seemed oblivious (or indifferent) to the fact vigilant citizens and government watchdogs  might be concerned that an unelected lobbyist prowling the halls of Congress actually has the political power (and hubris) of a U.S. Senator.  And that while seeking to "help" people, Brownstein, in actuality, is serving primarily the interests of Corporate America (or in the case of California, an irrigation district in Fresno County and the San Diego Water Authority).

               Perhaps Brownstein needs to forget the shallow honors of the Senate and focus his parenting skills on keeping his one son out of prison and the other son from committing embarrassing gaffes.