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Brooke Jenkins’ $100K pay may have been legal, but was it ethical?

The District Attorney of SF Brooke Jenkins in San Francisco on Saturday, July 23, 2022. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins doesn’t appear to have broken any laws by netting more than $100,000 from a nonprofit closely tied to the recall effort against her former boss Chesa Boudin.

But her previously undisclosed six-figure salary, accrued while the recall campaign touted Jenkins as an unpaid volunteer, could raise issues of public perception for the district attorney as her political viability is put to the test in November when Jenkins will run for election for the first time.

As The Standard first reported Tuesday, Jenkins made upward of $100,000 as a consultant for the nonprofit Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, an organization that appears to be the nonpartisan counterpart of another nonprofit that was largely behind the Boudin recall.

The revelation, which the top prosecutor disclosed this week on a statement of economic interests after Mayor London Breed appointed her to office July 8, has prompted allegations that Jenkins misrepresented herself as a volunteer for the recall. Boudin went as far as to accuse Jenkins of “lying” in a social media post, saying “integrity is central to the job of District Attorney.”

“If jurors can’t trust your word, they won’t convict,” Boudin wrote. “The relationships with judges and defense counsel and victims are all built on integrity. Lying to get ahead destroys the trust we need to make SF safer.”

While Jenkins has acknowledged earning her salary at the same time she served as a spokesperson for the recall, the district attorney said she was paid to advise the group and conduct legal analysis and research.

A spokesperson for Jenkins declined to answer questions asking for more specifics on her paid work or requests to provide documentation to bolster her assertions.

Jenkins started consulting for the Neighbors group as well as two other nonprofits after quitting her job as an assistant district attorney under Boudin to join the recall campaign. The campaign repeatedly touted her in press releases as a volunteer for the effort.

Jenkins previously said in a statement that she “leveraged my career and prosecutorial experience to help provide a new source of income to help support my family and small children.”

“It was a tough decision to leave my dream career during a pandemic and rising economic uncertainty, but it was the right choice for my family and me,” she said.

Jenkins herself does not appear to be in legal jeopardy as a result of the disclosure, but one expert who spoke with The Standard said that income could become an issue for the nonprofit that paid her depending on whether Jenkins was compensated to support the recall.

As a 501(c)(3) organization, Neighbors for a Better San Francisco is not legally allowed to engage in political activity for or against a candidate. Its apparent political counterpart, which goes by the nearly identical name Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy, is allowed to engage in a certain amount of political activity as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit.

The latter of those two nonprofits sponsored the deep-pocketed political action committee that raised $4.8 million of the roughly $7.1 million to recall Boudin. One of the biggest funders of the recall, William Oberndorf, is also a board member for the nonpartisan nonprofit that paid Jenkins, records show.

Ann Ravel, former head of the Federal Election Commission and the state's campaign finance agency, said she had never heard of a similar nonprofit setup with a strong political advocate like Jenkins paid from the nonpartisan end of the organization. Ravel said the situation could give rise to the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“It’s awkward because of course individuals have rights to act in their personal capacities if they’re not doing it on behalf of the organization,” Ravel said, “but it does have kind of an unseemly appearance.”

Ravel said the situation could raise legal issues for the nonpartisan nonprofit that paid Jenkins if it appears she was speaking for the organization when she was criticizing Boudin—and could even subject it to an IRS investigation that could result in the group having to return money.

Jenkins as an individual doesn’t appear to have violated any laws, Ravel said, but may have crossed a line by being vocal about the Boudin recall while getting paid by a nonprofit social welfare organization.

“That is somewhat problematic,” Ravel said. "It doesn’t have a good look to it but I don’t think it is a clear violation of any law.” 

Legal issues aside, the disclosure could become a sore spot for Jenkins in the coming months as she runs in the fall election to keep her job as DA. While Jenkins undoubtedly has Breed’s backing as well as the endorsements of other high-level moderate Democrats, she is untested as a political candidate.

Matt Gonzalez, a top attorney with the Public Defender’s Office and leading figure in the local progressive faction, said the situation looks “terrible” for Jenkins from a political perspective because of the “exorbitant” amount of money she earned and the fact that her pay was only now disclosed.

“She’s basically trying to say, ‘I’m a Good Samaritan volunteer over here, out of the goodness of my heart trying to alert you to problems with the Boudin administration,’” Gonzalez said. “But then you learn that she’s being paid for it. … That gives me a lot of concern.”

Gonzalez said Jenkins could face a tough race in the coming months if a progressive-backed candidate jumps into the race. Boudin has bowed out of running against Jenkins in the coming election. Friday is the deadline for any other contenders to formally enter the contest. 

“She’s never held elective office, she’s never run a campaign and she had never been under personal scrutiny,” Gonzalez said. “She’s been in office a very short amount of time and has attracted probably more negative press than Boudin did in the same amount of time.”

Already, another candidate in the running for DA, attorney and former Police Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese, accused Jenkins of skirting ethics rules and “profiteering” based on The Standard’s reporting.

Representatives for the various Neighbors organizations have not responded to requests for comment.

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