District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is the target of a new ethics complaint alleging she posed as a volunteer for the recall of her predecessor Chesa Boudin while actually netting a six-figure salary for her labor.
The complaint, filed anonymously this week with the city’s Ethics Commission and state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, accuses Jenkins of failing to register as a campaign consultant—an alleged violation of San Francisco law that could rise to the level of a misdemeanor.
The Standard was first to report that Jenkins earned a substantial salary from three nonprofits closely tied to the Boudin recall, while the campaign to oust her reform-minded predecessor repeatedly cast her as an unpaid volunteer.
Since disclosing the payments, Jenkins has maintained that her volunteer service on the recall had nothing to do with the nonprofits paying her to work as a consultant. But the anonymous complainant alleges otherwise.
The complaint is not likely to result in any answers by the time voters decide on Nov. 8 if Jenkins should keep the job Mayor London Breed appointed her to in July. However, the complaint could open the door for two agencies with subpoena power to obtain records Jenkins has declined to provide.
The complaint asks the Ethics Commission to investigate whether Jenkins should have registered as a campaign consultant. It also alleges campaign finance violations by the recall campaign and one of the nonprofits.
The anonymous person who filed the complaint did not respond to questions about their identity but provided receipts showing they submitted the document to both agencies Tuesday. Neither agency independently confirmed its filing, as Ethics Commission complaints are confidential and FPPC complaints are not immediately available to the public.
The anonymous person indicated that they did not intend to influence the upcoming election but rather sought to prevent organizations in future races from setting up pay structures such as the one alleged in the complaint.
Representatives for Jenkins and the two organizations named in the complaint dismissed the allegations against them in separate statements, while declining to answer questions.
Jenkins’ campaign consultant, Maggie Muir, called the complaint a distraction.
“The District Attorney is focused on making more progress and advancing solutions on the issues that voters care most about, and not anonymous complaints that have no merit,” Muir said in a statement.
The complaint focuses on the $153,000 salary Jenkins reportedly earned from one of the three nonprofits: Neighbors for a Better San Francisco.
The nonprofit, which is registered as a nonpartisan 501c3, shares the same address and a nearly identical name as the main organization that bankrolled the recall: Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy.
Jenkins declined to answer detailed questions about her compensation after The Standard first reported on her income, but she told The Chronicle that Neighbors for a Better San Francisco paid her to analyze the impact of an old ballot measure, Proposition 47, on property crimes.
The complaint alleges that Jenkins should have registered as a campaign consultant because she appears to have provided her paid research on Prop. 47 to the recall campaign, in addition to acting as its spokesperson.
The complaint says the theft offenses reclassified by Prop. 47 “appear to have played a major role” in the case against Boudin. It points to the recall website featuring data on these crimes—largely drawn from news articles—as evidence. (The campaign website recently went down, but still exists online.)
The complaint also outlines the tangled web of connections tying all three of the nonprofits to the recall through Mary Jung, a former real estate lobbyist and erstwhile head of the local Democratic Party.
“Ms. Jenkins certainly should have known that her work would be used to support the recall effort—especially given how involved she was with the same individuals on that recall effort,” the complaint reads.
Apart from the alleged violation against Jenkins, the complaint claims that the $153,000 Neighbors for a Better San Francisco paid Jenkins amounted to an unreported, in-kind contribution to the recall campaign.
This means the nonprofit should have registered with local and state regulators as a “multipurpose organization” that was “primarily formed” to support the Boudin recall, the complaint alleges.
By the same logic, the recall campaign—San Franciscans for Public Safety Supporting the Recall of Chesa Boudin—should have reported Jenkins’ paid work as an in-kind contribution from the nonprofit, according to the complaint.
The complaint urges the regulators to compel Jenkins and Neighbors for a Better San Francisco to provide records, including timesheets, to confirm whether the district attorney actually performed $153,000 worth of labor.
Jenkins has thus far refused to provide documentation on her work, citing attorney-client privilege. Her campaign staff declined to say whether she would ask the nonprofit to release her from those stated restrictions.
Jung, the head of the recall campaign, called the complaint “baseless.”
"Boudin’s loyalists and the District Attorney’s opponents are grasping at straws and will do anything to try and take her down,” Jung said in a statement. “The District Attorney was a volunteer for the recall campaign—end of story.”
Jay Cheng, a spokesperson for Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, issued a statement saying the complaint had “absolutely no merit whatsoever.”
“Boudin’s supporters still have sour grapes after being soundly recalled by the voters of San Francisco and will do anything to try to drag our organization through the mud,” Cheng wrote. “We look forward to beating back this ridiculous complaint.”
At an event at Manny’s cafe last month in the Mission, Jenkins said she regretted not disclosing her income sooner and acknowledged the bad optics of the situation, but she reiterated that her paid work was separate from her volunteer role in recalling Boudin.
“In retrospect,” Jenkins said, “I would never have wanted to mislead people.”
Michael Barba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org