Silberman's relationship with publisher Copley, said to be a hard-drinking eccentric who demanded he marry her, was soon history, but this brush with controversy would be far from his last. In March 1979, the New York Times broke a story alleging Jerry Brown had been using his influence with the Mexican government on behalf of Silberman's old friend from Tijuana, Carlos Bustamante. "The governor has been courting Mexican officials, including President Jose Lopez Portillo, with the behind-the-scenes aid of Bustamante," the Times reported. "Some of the projects Brown has been pushing with the Mexican president are those in which Bustamante and his family, the Tijuana-based owners of ten gas utility companies, have a strong financial interest.
"The Bustamantes have wealth and political influence on both sides of the border, and they are emerging as vital middlemen and partners with American individuals and companies doing business with Mexico." The story went on to say that the FBI was investigating Brown's 1974 gubernatorial campaign for failing to report "large Bustamante contributions," adding that Brown "would not discuss his relationship with the Bustamantes, but Gray Davis, his chief of staff, said there was not 'the slightest connection' between the governor's actions and the interests of the Bustamantes.
"The wealth of the Bustamante family -- Alfonso Sr., 64 years old, and his two sons, Alfonso Jr., 35, and Carlos, 34, -- exceeds $200 million, according to a business associate, and includes real estate, construction, hotels, and ten utility companies that distribute propane and butane gas, the sole source of cooking and heating fuel for most of the residents of Baja California. Their political influence in Mexico is equally vast, according to friends of the family and political observers."
Adding to the intrigue was the fact that the Bustamantes "are involved in Mexican oil and gas deals with close associates of Brown, including his father, former Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr., according to principals in the transactions." Some of the junior Brown's meetings with Mexican officials, the story said, were "arranged by Carlos Bustamante and Roberto de la Madrid, governor of Baja California Norte, Bustamante says. Bustamante attended some of the meetings and was the only nongovernment person present, according to participants."
"Bustamante," according to the Times account, "was then under contract to SDG&E to secure the approval of the Mexican government" for a power-plant project to be built in Baja California on the coast south of Tijuana. "The Bustamantes received more than $100,000 from the utility to make contact with and entertain Mexican officials," the story said, quoting an SDG&E official who added, "We always suspected the Bustamantes would ultimately build the plant and that it would be on their land."
The Times reported that the FBI was investigating whether the 1974 Brown campaign had accepted at least $40,000 in unreported Bustamante contributions, and Bustamante told the paper he had "lent" $20,000 to the 1978 Brown campaign. But nothing ever came of those allegations nor other reported charges connecting Alfonso Bustamante, Sr., the father of Carlos, to $7 million in alleged kickbacks from Petrolane, Inc., a California-based energy outfit.
Though he had skated through the Bustamante controversy, Brown's political career began to falter. A series of bad judgements, including an ill-fated decision to run against Jimmy Carter in the presidential primaries of 1980 and a loopy campaign-kickoff rally in Wisconsin that earned him the appellation "Governor Moonbeam," courtesy of Doonesbury creator Gary Trudeau, sealed his fate. When he ran for the U.S. Senate against Pete Wilson in 1982, he was beaten handily, and Silberman, who for five years had flourished under Brown, found himself looking for a fresh political connection to fuel his finely crafted network of influence. It came in the form of Susan Golding.
"On occasion I picked up and delivered the children to Dick's house in Balboa Park when I visited from Los Angeles after Susan and Dick started dating in 1982. The house was big and full of art and likewise impressive," Golding's ex-husband Stanley Prowse would later recall in a declaration filed in a child-support case Golding brought against him.
"Susan talked to me on the phone about marrying Dick shortly after she had moved to Sacramento in the spring of 1983," Prowse said. "She told me that she thought she loved him, and that they were talking about getting married, but that she was nervous about it, particularly in light of their age difference and the fact that she was building her political career as a Republican while he was a prominent Democrat. I told her that I felt her fears were justified, and that she should ask him to settle a substantial sum on her when and if they married, so that she would feel secure and not be dependent on him. She told me she thought my advice was sound. I did not doubt that she had followed it when she and Dick were wed the following year.
"I was well acquainted with Dick's reputation as a multimillionaire financier and political power broker. As an associate of what was then Friedman, Heffner, Kahan & Dysart, I had worked closely with Hugh Friedman, whose wife Lynn Schenk was Dick's protégé and 'right hand man' while Dick was Secretary of Business and Transportation. When I was searching for a better paying position after separating from Susan, Mr. Friedman (who already had left the firm) suggested that Ms. Schenk might be able to help me find something in Dick's department. I went up to Sacramento for interviews but nothing came of it. I believe I met briefly with Dick, although I doubt he remembers it. In any event, I was very impressed."
As it turned out, Schenk was to become the next quarry for Golding and Silberman. In the spring of 1984, a seat on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors had opened up, and Schenk, who lived in La Jolla, had long coveted the job as a launching pad for her congressional aspirations. She said she had received Silberman's endorsement and his assurances that Golding would not challenge her. The promise was smashed that May, as Golding rented a small apartment in University City and moved into the district. As soon as the Schenk campaign began sniping at Golding for accepting small "gifts" from Silberman, such as dinner and trips abroad, the pair got married, and Silberman quickly pumped more than $250,000 of his personal fortune into Golding's campaign treasury, as permitted by law. That November, as the returns came in at election central showing a Golding victory, Silberman knew his investment had paid off, and he was back in business.