Money for Something

Willie Brown's A-list donors and what they may want

Willie Brown beat out Frank Jordan in the most important part of the electoral contest: fund raising. The former speaker of the California Assembly raised a whopping $2 million, nearly a half million more than Jordan.

Not to be too cynical, but money has a way of translating into action regardless of who's elected. Simply put, campaign contributors buy access and favors with their largess.

In beating out Jordan in the money game, Brown relied on 10 top donors -- the cop union, a hotelier, a garbage hauler, a nursing-home chain, old friends, theater owners, an escrow agent from San Diego, and others -- who legally skirted campaign finance limits to pump an impressive $61,000 into his campaign.

The A-list used a common technique to maximize their generosity. They maxed out with $750 contributions under various legal and corporate entities or through various family members. It's called bundling, and it works.

So why did these disparate interests find Brown so attractive?
Bill Kimpton, the owner of 12 hotels in San Francisco, has perhaps the most pressing need to curry favor with Brown.

He's under a boycott campaign by Hotel and Restaurant Workers Local 2 for busting unions in several of his hotels. A week before the Nov. 12 election, Brown went down to one of Kimpton's hotels, the Sir Francis Drake on Nob Hill, and joined the picket line for more than 30 minutes. He also made one of his trademark barn-burning speeches in favor of workers' rights and organized labor.

Two weeks later, Kimpton used his various hotels and business entities to donate $9,000. For the record, his ex-wife, Kay, maxed out to Brown for $750.

What could Kimpton want of Brown? Perhaps he thinks he's buying nonintervention, in essence an insurance policy to make sure Brown doesn't act too passionately in favor of Local 2. Or does he think he's purchasing Brown's active intervention to get the union off his back?

Kimpton did not return several phone calls.
Over at the Brown campaign, Pat Reilly, Brown's press secretary, says, "We don't scare people into donating."

Reilly says the only thing Kimpton wants from Brown is leadership. "Mr. Brown has spent a good portion of the campaign talking about economic development, and part of that is the hotel and convention business," Reilly says. "Brown wants to make this city business-friendly. That is what [Kimpton] is responding to."

Despite the numerous examples of special interest influence-buying, sometimes the motive for donating is honorable.

For example, Eugene Friend, the president of Howard Properties, organized the donation of about $20,000 to the Brown campaign, $4,500 of which came from his family.

He says Brown is a personal friend and a liberal politician and that's enough for him to open his checkbook. He says Howard Properties, a Bay Area real estate investment firm, has no business before a city board or agency and he only owns one property in the city, an industrial park on 26th Street. A loyal Democrat, he's donated to local libs like Phil and John Burton for decades.

Dr. Leon Metz, who got family members in New York and Louisiana to donate $4,000, has the poor on his mind. "He's better able to understand poor people and get them jobs and hope," Metz says.

Still, common sense dictates that Kimpton isn't the only one trying to balance the quids with the quos.

The single biggest donor to Brown's campaign was a nursing-home chain out of Owings Mills, Md., called Integrated Health Services (IHS). The company runs inpatient and outpatient subacute facilities all across the country. It bundled to the tune of $9,750, edging Kimpton out by one bundle.

Why IHS thinks Willie is so worthy will have to remain a mystery for now.
Brown's campaign was unable by deadline to say why IHS gave so generously. And after a week's worth of unreturned phone calls all IHS had to say was this: "Corporations give money to politicians all the time. We don't have to, and we never disclose why we give money."

The IHS employee who said that refused to give her name or her title. She said she worked for Mark Levine, an IHS vice president, who she said was unavailable for comment. The anonymous employee was also unable to say if IHS has any business pending before San Francisco government.

Coincidentally -- or not -- Brown involved himself in nursing-home politics recently.

On Dec. 9, he picketed in front of a competing national convalescent chain, joining staff at the Hillhaven Inc. facility on Divisadero Street to protest a breakdown in contract talks.

Some of the top donors were more than happy to reveal apparent ties between their big money donations and their business with the city.

Sam Kalman, one of the city's bigger commercial office developers, for example. He gave Brown $2,500 through his various business entities. What's on Sam's mind?

Well, he says he just loves Willie, whom he's known for 25 years. "I think he's a very intelligent man," the 83-year-old says. "I think he's the man of the hour. He'll turn the city upside down. He'll gets things done. He's not a pussycat."

Oh yeah, and there's that little matter of Kalman's $15 million high-rise project south of Market. The Redevelopment Commission, which Brown will appoint, has yet to approve Kalman's project.

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