In his bid to unseat his former boss, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, retired Lt. Kevin Jensen has managed to pull in endorsements from numerous police unions in the region. So it wasn’t much of surprise when he secured backing from Crime Victims United, a coalition made up of crime victims, their families and some of the same law enforcement employees who claim membership in those unions.
Except this particular endorsement came after an independent expenditure committee supporting Jensen wrote a $2,500 check to Crime Victims United, recorded in campaign disclosure forms as a “civic donation.” At first glance, the contribution and subsequent endorsement could appear to be a neatly arranged exchange, much like the COPS Voter Guide endorsements Rose Herrera and Johnny Khamis purchased in their 2012 City Council races. But Jensen strongly denies any quid pro quo.
“I didn’t know about the payment,” he said. “There was a fundraiser we went to, but the payment had nothing to do with the endorsement.”
Jensen told San Jose Inside that he applied for the endorsement like any other candidate—by calling the organization, requesting an application and interviewing with a panel.
As of the latest filing deadline, March 17, the "Santa Clara County Public Safety Workers Support Kevin Jensen for Sheriff 2014" committee had raised $235,000 to support its preferred candidate, with massive contributions—$180,000 to date—coming directly from the Santa Clara County Peace Officers Association, the local jail guard union. That committee paid Crime Victims United $2,500 to attend the organization's Feb. 25 dinner event, which featured Controller John Chiang as a guest speaker.
Jensen's candidate-controlled campaign has raised a total of $52,698.56, with just a $17,819.24 cash balance as of March 17.
Smith, who's running for what would be her fifth term, clocked $27,000 in mostly smaller donations during the first filing period of this year, and she had $59,059.66 in cash on hand.
When elected in 1998, Smith became California's first female sheriff. But her four terms haven't been without controversy. A 2011 lawsuit alleged that Smith doled out concealed weapons permits "in an arbitrary and capricious way," according to the Mercury News. A year later, she came under fire for lending an on-the-clock sworn-staff bodyguard to then-Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. And just last fall, reports accused her of offering preferential treatment to DUI suspect and 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith.