Kudos to Matt Smith at the Center for Investigative Reporting for that rarest breed of local investigative stories—a look at the questionable business dealings of Chronicle columnist and political insider Willie Brown. Questionable in this case, because, among other things, Brown allies Mayor Ed Lee and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have each devoted staff time, lobbying resources and political capital to the success of a little-known private investment firm that Brown denies knowledge about but whose materials show him as a principal.
The firm: San Francisco Bay Area Regional Center. It’s supposed to help secure visa priority for foreign investors backing Lennar’s development of the former Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard. An excerpt:
Brown’s exact role in the investment firm is a bit of a puzzle. He denies knowledge of it, but the company’s brochures and website call him a “principal,” and regional center CEO Ginny Fang says he is a minority partner.
But when Fang wrote to city officials July 4, 2012, making the case for lobbying the Homeland Security Department, she wrote that the regional center has three leaders: herself, Brown and Steven Kay, secretary of the board for the Willie L. Brown Jr. Institute on Politics & Public Service. Brown is chairman and CEO of the institute.
“If I had to diagram this project, it would look like a family tree with lots of extra little problems,” said Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at Santa Clara University. “Brown as chair and principal of this financial services firm stands to benefit financially, probably in a significant manner. So I’d say that the skeptic would look at this and say this pretty much looks like an inside deal.”
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