Brown scandal resurfacing?

Mar. 9, 2010

Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters has been covering California politics since 1975. No one writing about our beloved state government has more experience or authority.

But Walters did a curious thing in his March 3 column, titled “Brown’s back – with his baggage.” After spending the entire column talking about Attorney General/gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown’s politics, personas and past tenure as California governor, he drops in this sentence near the end: “And then there’s the Brown family’s semi-secret financial ties to the military dictatorship of Indonesia, a book-length saga unto itself.”

Say what? Now I may still be relatively new to Sacramento, but others in the office who’ve been up here a few years were shaking their heads after reading that little line. Not really having a clue what Walters was talking about, I started digging though old newspaper articles for some kind of explanation. Though I didn’t find much, what I did locate made me reassess everything I knew about Jerry Brown and his father, the late Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown.

Much of what’s currently available about Brown and Indonesia comes from Walter’s reporting decades ago, though it’s clear the issue was hot in the late 1970s. A great source is this Walters story that ran in the Oct. 17, 1990 Lodi News-Sentinel, and forms much of the background for my own knowledge of the tale.

Back in the late 1960s, after Pat Brown ceded the governor’s mansion to Ronald Reagan, Brown went into private law practice. Among his clients was Pertamina, Indonesia’s state-owned oil and gas company.

Keep in mind that in the late 1960s, Indonesia was governed by the repressive Suharto regime, which had seized power in 1965 from the leftist Sukarno in a bloody coup that ultimately killed half a million people. To see Pat Brown’s name – inextricably wound up with California’s progressive politics – linked to Suharto’s is a shock indeed.

Anyway, Walters reported that Brown helped Pertamina’s boss Ibnu Sutowo get $13 billion in loans, which went into default after Sutowo got busted for corruption.

“Brown’s reward was a concession to market Pertamina’s oil in the United States,” Walters reported. “Brown’s law firm also represented Indonesia as a lobbyist in Washington.”

According to Walters’ reporting, the elder Brown insisted that his son, Jerry, rejected any financial interest in Brown’s Indonesian oil venture (though apparently daughter and former state treasurer Kathleen Brown did). But that doesn’t mean Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t have his own Indonesian troubles.

In the late 1970s, “A powerful coalition of business and labor interests began promoting a project to ship liquefied natural gas to California in huge tankers from Indonesia and Alaska and then-Gov. Jerry Brown launched an all-out drive to win approval of the LNG terminal,” Walters reported in the Mar. 15, 2001 Sacramento Bee. Pat Brown lobbied heavily for the terminal, which was to sit near Santa Barbara. Though approved, it was never built – concern over earthquakes and suddenly abundant LNG supplies brought about by industry deregulation ultimately killed the deal, reported Walters.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Concurrent with the LNG terminal push, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) “adopted new requirements for the sulfur content of fuel oil,” Walters reported back in 1990. As a result, power plants had to buy their oil from Indonesian supplies, which had lower sulfur levels than that of, say, Alaska.

“Jerry Brown angrily denied suggestions that those actions were a conflict of interest, insisting that he had no personal involvement with Perta or Pertamina, although Perta and its executives had loaned or contributed some $70,000 to his 1974 campaign for governor,” Walters reported in 1990.

No one from the Brown campaign returned a call for comment on this story. Neither Brown’s recent Statements of Economic Interests nor his campaign finance reports suggest any contributions from sources like Perta, a marketing firm that dealt with Pat Brown’s own United States International Investment Corp., which handled his Indonesian concession.

Ironically, Indonesia today is a democracy, steadily emerging from its past military horrors. In many ways, its government is more stable than California’s, which is also a far cry from that which Brown left in 1983.

–Anthony Pignataro


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  1. Larry
    Larry 9 March, 2010, 11:34

    Good article! One of Jerry Brown’s first official actions as CA AG was to “lobby” for one of his friends in the oil/power biz… as soon as he became AG, he was asked by a “close family friend” at one of his dinner parties, to see what he could do to settle the lawsuit against this friend’s power company… From what I heard (inside the DOJ), it took one of his more seasoned Assistants to inform him that he could not do that — would not look good politically.

    Reply this comment
  2. Charles Pineda, Jr.
    Charles Pineda, Jr. 6 May, 2010, 13:10

    Who was the California Attorney General at the time. Was he asleep? It seems that two or more persons committing a lawful act in an illegal manner meets the criterion for a charge of conspiracy.

    One has to remember that the bankers who put up the 15 or 16 billion dollars for the Indonisian oil deal had the resources,politically, to hire PR firms or law firms to influence any prosecution. I’d like to know if the AG, at the time, made any notes of who contacted him regarding the deal. In my humble opinion those types of contacts or conversations are secrets and no one ever knows about them, not even the press.

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  3. Burt Wilson
    Burt Wilson 22 August, 2010, 09:37

    The news of the Brown Family Oil Business was actually released in the mid-70’s by myself and Tim Brick when we were co-coordinators of CAUSE–the Campaign Against Utility Service Exploitation. We did a news conference in the Senator Hotel with graphs and arrows pointing to the cross-references which linked the Brown Family to Suharto and Pertamina and Perta, the major holding company. The then Sacramento Union was the only paper to print our expose. Walters worked for the Union at that time.

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  4. steve muir
    steve muir 24 October, 2010, 16:19

    I was one of the “three toed frogs” that was living at Point Conception when Jerry wrote the assembly bill 1082 that made it the only site possible. This was done to ram it in under the three year deadline. The Feds had approved a site in Oxnard but it was going to take to long.When they broke ground they found a fault and the Indians went on the warpath. A armed encampment followed at Cojo(the Western Gate where souls jump off the earth) which lasted for weeks but Jerry had them removed(from private property). All was going well for Jerry and Pat until the second to last hearing(no one allowed to speak). On the way out a guy yelled “I followed the money! You have the contract to import the LNG.” This pissed Pat off so much that he punched the guy in the mouth(on camera KEYT)”I have no intrest” Jerry lied.

    Reply this comment
    • mark loc
      mark loc 23 August, 2014, 11:26

      hi steve

      great notes on this subject.

      pls let me know if you get this. have some more info.


      Reply this comment
  5. steve muir
    steve muir 24 October, 2010, 17:21

    After that fiasco I ended up doing some work for Jane Fonda and her husband Tom Hayden. Jerry had appointed him he head of alternative energy. This consisted of a twelve inch square solar panel for his electric gate intercom. Never worked so we always had to jump the gate and pull the pin on the bar to open it. In the meantime the only thing Tom was doing was trying to screw Santa Barbara by building a illegal political facility in the guise of a auditorium “for the children” Got caught and shut down which resulted in Tom Jane and Henry Fonda making commercials about how they were being persecuted.Jerry was the original Obama with surrounding himself with kooks.

    Reply this comment
  6. steve muir
    steve muir 8 November, 2010, 16:27

    After that I went into business for myself. Turns out that business didn’t support Jerry so he decided to cut the State Contractors Board. Fired everyone but one guy. The backlog for a Contractors license was six months the next day. Two months later it was a year and a half. Here is how it worked. You paid a “flyer”(to physically go to Sacramento) $1400 to take your application and put it “on top” of the application file. This reduced the application from a year and a half to three months. I know because I paid and it worked.

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  7. steve muir
    steve muir 6 August, 2014, 19:34

    I have so much more on this and the SB oil spill. When the oil spilled and the pumping was shut down, the back pressure blew out a six foot hole off Conception. Pumped for months until they put the wells back online. Never reported, never capped. The whole SB channel is a fracture zone full of oil. Shut down pumping and it will spill. GOO had it wrong. The best thing that could happen to Santa Barbara would be to put up more rigs and slant drill. Pump the whole channel dry. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the strata in the sea cliffs. Full of oil for millions of years. Why do you think they want to frack the Monterey shale.

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