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Jerry Brown's 1979 'Special List' Highlights Eclectic Relationships

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When Jerry Brown was governor three decades ago, his staff was instructed to give special access to dozens of confidantes, political insiders and supporters whose requests, concerns and recommendations were supposed to be routed straight to Brown, administrative records show.

The document, labeled the "Special List," was discovered by California Watch in Brown's gubernatorial archives and includes friends, politicians and power brokers - and four people labeled as "contributors."

The list of about 100 names includes famed fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, a longtime friend and recent campaign contributor; pop singer Helen Reddy and her then-husband and manager, Jeff Wald; Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard; and David Karr, a politically connected Renaissance man later named in published reports as a source for the KGB.

Others had more conventional political ties to Brown, including United Farm Workers of America founder Cesar Chavez and veteran labor leader Jack Henning; Mickey Kantor, who ran Brown's campaigns for president in 1976 and for Senate in 1982; Democratic Party powerhouse Charles Manatt; and campaign donors like computer pioneer Max Palevsky and Democratic leader Paul Ziffren.

Beyond providing a rare glimpse into Brown's inner circle at the time, the list highlights the dueling identities that Brown and his opponents have presented on the 2010 campaign trail: He is at once an independent, free-thinking iconoclast and an experienced party politician with long-running ties to the old-line Democratic base.

The explicit marking of campaign donors on the list also could present an image counter to Brown's longtime crusade against the influence of money in politics, political observers noted. Brown was instrumental in crafting the Political Reform Act of 1974 and has railed against the outsized influence of wealthy donors.

"He's a very smart politician, a very thoughtful politician, who plays the game," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, who worked with Brown to write the Political Reform Act.

It's unclear how long the document was in use or how it was implemented. California Watch sent a copy of the list to Brown's campaign last month, but his spokesman, Sterling Clifford, declined to offer any comment.

California Watch also sent a copy to Brown's former chief of staff, former Gov. Gray Davis. Neither he nor Brown's former administrative assistant, Lucie Gikovich, responded to requests for comment.

Dated February 1979, early in Brown's second term, the list was included with a packet of instructions to staff outlining how the governor's mail should be routed.

The instructions advised staff to send all correspondence from list members to Gikovich, who also was marked to receive letters from other VIPs, such as President Jimmy Carter, top lawmakers and family members.

The list itself was probably just a matter of practicality, Stern and other political observers said. High-level politicians are bombarded routinely by requests and typically employ staff to act as gatekeepers. Experienced staffers often know whose calls and letters to put through, but a list like Brown's would help formalize the access rules.

"I don't think it's unusual," said Derek Cressman, regional director of the group Common Cause, which often advocates for campaign finance reform. "I'm willing to bet everyone actually has a list, but I can't remember anyone getting their hands on it."

However, the explicit marking of donors on the list surprised some, especially in light of Brown's long-professed distaste for campaign finance. He famously declined contributions larger than $100 during his 1992 presidential campaign.

"I think that if he was giving access to people because they gave a lot of money, that certainly runs counter to the next decade and a half of what he was trying to change," said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at UC Berkeley and longtime observer of California politics.

The list does not make clear whether most contributors merely gave money or whether they also happened to be friends or associates. Documents indicate that Brown's staff compiled the list.

One person on the list, Carol Long, is described as a "personal friend and contributor." Ziffren, who was listed as a "contributor," was also once a Democratic Party official. Palevsky, who is listed as a "contributor" with his ex-wife Joan, helped launch Davis' political career and later married a member of Brown's cabinet. The final contributor listed is Jack Myers, who is also described as an investment banker.

Campaign records show that Joan Palevsky in particular was helpful to Brown early in his gubernatorial career, loaning $40,000 to one of his campaign committees. The loan, which was repaid in 1975, was a significant amount, considering that many individual donations at the time came in amounts of a few hundred dollars.

The small sample of correspondence examined by California Watch details only a handful of interactions between list members and the administration, but several letters hint at the relationships some members maintained with Brown and his staff.

For example, Ziffren wrote a letter in 1980 to Davis recommending a slate of potential appointees for a special commission related to outdoor advertising.

"I am enclosing some background information on persons who could be considered for appointment by the Governor to the Commission set up by that Bill," the note reads. "I have suggested three names in each of the two categories as we discussed, and hopefully the Governor will consider one or more worthy of appointment."

Manatt, a Los Angeles lawyer and party leader, sent a note to Davis in 1980 lobbying on behalf of the United Way to support legislation that would allow for a tax deduction on non-itemized charitable contributions.

"I have been contacted by the United Way to urge the Governor to approve the straight deduction for taxpayers for charitable contributions," Manatt wrote. "Accordingly, I am asking Jerry to give it every consideration as it seems like it is fair and supportive of some of society's better aims."

Brown ultimately vetoed the bill for cost reasons, records show, but others on the list sometimes had more luck. In particular, Brown maintained a close relationship with Chavez, of the United Farm Workers.

In letters dated throughout Brown's tenure as governor, Chavez recommended numerous appointees. In 1977, he wrote a letter recommending the appointment of Stanley Sheinbaum to the University of California Board of Regents. Sheinbaum, who was also on the list and described as a "friend," ultimately was appointed and served on the board until 1989.

In another case, a question from Chavez about the California Youth Authority sentences of two young brothers prompted a response directly from Brown's legal affairs secretary, J. Anthony Kline. Chavez's influence also was instrumental to the passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which stands as one of Brown's hallmark accomplishments as governor.

Eclectic correspondence

Beyond politics as usual, the list also showcases Brown's well-known tendencies toward the eclectic. Amid the party bosses and union leaders on the list are intellectuals and friends whose letters indulged Brown's appetite for high-minded discussion.

Among them: Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich; Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder; and Richard Baker, former head of the San Francisco Zen Center.

One note addressed to Brown from New York investment banking executive Francis H.M. Kelly presented a four-page commentary on American sociopolitical shifts that discussed, among other things, neopopulist ideology and leverage in the financial system.

The letter closes by telling Brown, "I hope this brings some form to our recent late night lucubrations."

Fashion designer von Furstenberg ended up on the list several years after she met Brown at a party during his first run for president, according to her autobiography, "Diane: A Signature Life."

"I was very drawn to Jerry. Not only did I find him extremely attractive, I was very intrigued by his life," von Furstenberg wrote. She went on to describe her personal relationship with Brown as "never more than a flirtation, really."

One intriguing name on the list was that of Karr - a onetime journalist and international businessman who years later was identified in published reports as a KGB source.

A 1979 story in Fortune magazine also hinted at his ties to the Russians. It described Karr as a consummate dealmaker who often spoke of his high-profile relationships with Brown and other Democratic politicians, such as Sargent Shriver and Ted Kennedy.

"Whispers of a KGB connection followed Karr everywhere, once he started commuting to Moscow in 1972," the article reads. "However, in his bargaining with the Russians, just as in his wheeling-dealing with everyone else, it was always difficult to be sure whose side Karr was on."

He was found dead in July 1979 in his Paris hotel room, the victim of an apparent heart attack. Suspecting he was murdered, his wife ordered an autopsy, which turned up no evidence of foul play.

A brief in The New York Times written several months after his death said Karr was "reported to have been influential in development of California Gov. Edmund Brown's foreign policy position." Records show that Brown's office was notified at least once when Karr was traveling to Los Angeles late in the summer of 1978.

Years later, reporters would find Karr's name within KGB files, which referred to him as a "competent source" who brokered meetings between the Russians and high-level American politicians - specifically Kennedy, according to a 1992 story in The Boston Globe.

Like Karr, many of the people on the list have died or disappeared from the political sphere. Several, however, continue to openly support Brown's campaign. Von Furstenberg, for instance, has given $56,300 to Brown's campaign accounts over the last two years.

This story was edited by Robert Salladay. It was copy edited by Nikki Werking.

California Watch, the state's largest investigative reporting team, is a project of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. Contact the writer at cdavis@californiawatch.org.