A Helpful Summary of the Girls Gone Wild Internship Debacle

All the “he said, he said” getting confusing? We break it down.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

Click on the image to view the letter from Chad Brownstein to Senator Mark Pryor.

Arkansas senator Mark Pryor most likely didn't start this week thinking his name would end up in the same sentence as Girls Gone Wild, the reality TV and DVD sensation that features bare-breasted college girls. Similarly, Joe Francis, the show's creator, probably didn't think a US senator would be asking the FBI to focus on him in an investigation. Lastly, Los Angeles financier Chad Brownstein likely didn't expect he'd be apologizing for the whole mess. But that's what happened--and all in about 48 hours.

The imbroglio began last week when, according to Francis, he won an online charity auction for a four-week unpaid summer internship in the office of Senator Pryor. The item, meant to benefit LA's Wilshire Boulevard Temple, was listed for $15,000; Francis bought it for $2,500 and sent in a check.

What he did next started the firestorm.

Francis, at the start of this week, offered the internship as part of the prize package for the winner of his Search for the Hottest Girl in America contest show, who was to be announced next Thursday. Francis said he planned to send the "lucky woman" to Washington, which he saw as "doing a good thing for women and charity."

Except Pryor's office claimed to be clueless about the whole thing. The senator's communications director, Lisa Ackerman, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling the auction item a "hoax." She said Pryor had notified the FBI that their office feared someone was impersonating the senator. While Ackerman said they do have a summer intern program, "we don't sell it or auction it off." It would be illegal.

Over the course of the following 24 hours, nearly everyone began backpedaling. The Wilshire Boulevard Temple issued a statement: "Wilshire Boulevard Temple has learned that a private party organized to benefit the Temple's early childhood centers included an auction item bid for by Mr. Francis. We have learned that the party's organizers returned the money and canceled the item. We agree with that decision."

Then word came from Francis today that the auction deal was initially "brokered" by a lobbying firm with Washington connections: Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. Its cofounder and chairman is Norman Brownstein. Brownstein's son is Chad Brownstein, a member of the venture capital firm Crescent Capital Group. Francis wrote: "I can confirm that the charity has told me that the Brownstein Hyatt lobbying firm brokered the deal on behalf of Senator Mark Pryor to sell the internship. They also confirmed that the senator and his office were fully aware of everything." Indeed, it appeared that there were ties between the Brownstein family and the Arkansas Democrat; Chad had twice donated to Pryor's campaigns and appeared in a Wilshire Boulevard Temple newsletter giving the senator a tour.

By late Thursday afternoon, a public relations firm working for Chad Brownstein sent The Washingtonian a letter, dated April 26, 2012, from Brownstein on his personal stationery, addressed to Pryor, in which he apologizes for "any embarrassment that I have caused you" and says his father had nothing to do with the deal. "Neither he nor his firm had anything to do with it. I did this on my own."

In his letter to Pryor, Chad Brownstein admitted he had offered the auction item to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. "Pending approval of your office, I thought it might be possible to auction off an unpaid month-long summer internship for a high school student with your office." He said the Temple posted it "before I had a chance to check with your office." He also said it was posted without the caveat that the winning bidder "would have to be approved."

Thursday afternoon, we received a statement from Pryor's office, which read:

"As previously stated, I have never sold, auctioned or donated internships. I am glad the responsible party has come forward to clear up the matter. I had already referred the case to the FBI, and it is now up to them to determine whether a crime has been committed."

Francis, meanwhile, in a final communication this afternoon, said that he wanted an apology from the senator's office for calling it a hoax. He wrote, "Clearly now I have been cleared of ANY wrong-doing whatsoever."