Keeping up with the Jones campaign

Candidate Scott Jones has sent thousands of dollars in campaign funds to the NRA

Illustration by maria ratinova

In September of last year, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones accepted $3,000 in contributions from two distant companies wanting to do business in his jails. It was a weird time to be taking campaign money, as Jones wasn’t running for anything.

The previous year, Jones lost a close contest to reclaim Rep. Ami Bera’s congressional seat for the Republicans. And three weeks before Inmate Calling Solutions, LLC and Keefe Commissary Network, LLC each gave $1,500 to Jones’ campaign account, the sheriff announced he wouldn’t seek a third term in office.

In short, a politician was accepting money for a race he wasn’t running, and the donors were investing in a political campaign that didn’t exist.

Things have changed since then. In January, Jones’ preferred successor bowed out of the race and Jones stepped back in. The out-of-state companies, meanwhile, will soon have business before the Sheriff’s Department.

Texas-based Inmate Calling Solutions’ contract is up for reconsideration in June 2019. The company collected more than $4.3 million from inmates and their families last fiscal year, county documents show. The other company, Missouri-based Keefe Commissary Network, fell short in 2012 of landing a deal to charge Jones’ prisoners for basic goods while incarcerated. But the company that won that bid is currently on a month-to-month contract that ends this August, meaning Keefe will get another chance.

Keefe and ICSolutions have something else in common: Both are owned by TKC Holdings, LLC. The fact that this conglomerate is trying to get—or remain—in Jones’ good graces is neither new nor illegal. But money can be a clarifying construct, in that it informs and reveals values. And few are better at collecting money than Scott Jones.

If this year is different because of the Me Too and March for Our Lives movements, the money trail isn’t showing it. Through April 24, Jones’ campaign had raised $192,100 this year, nearly three times as much as his closest competitor, California Prison Authority workforce development chief Milo Fitch, who got a late start in this race. The reform-minded challenger announced his candidacy on March 8, and has managed to raise $95,100.24 since then.

Helping Fitch close the gap are the wives of Bay Area tech entrepreneurs: In recent weeks, San Francisco product designer Kaitlyn J. Trigger Kreiger, wife of Instagram co-founder Mike Kreiger, wrote $32,000 worth of checks to the Fitch campaign. (Update: All but $2,000 of that money was returned in an amended filing report, bringing Fitch’s total down to just over $65,000.) Patty Quillin, a prison reform advocate and wife of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, sent $10,000 from Santa Cruz. Real Justice PAC, a San Francisco-based outgrowth of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, has also been a steady contributor with nearly $10,000, almost half coming from in-kind donations.

Jones, meanwhile, has raked in dough from corporations that frequently get or chase after his department’s business.

Through June 2017, Securus Technologies Group Inc. invested $15,000 in Jones, according to campaign disclosures. The Texas-based company bid on a $5 million information technology jail contract in February 2017, but county supervisors selected another firm. Securus was also outbid in 2016 to replace ICSolutions, which has been making money off of local inmates’ phone calls since 2010, two years before Jones was first elected. Similarly, Alabama-based Global Tel*Link Corp., whose contract was claimed by ICSolutions, donated $1,500 in May 2017 to get back in the incumbent’s good graces. Also currying favor was Trinity Services Group Inc., a Florida-based correctional food services contractor, which gave $1,500 and may be eying a run at the lucrative jail commissary account coming up for bid this summer.

In a written statement, Jones said the companies’ money went into his annual golf tournament last summer.

As a candidate, Jones receiveth and giveth away. The sheriff spent more than $1,200 of his campaign donations on gifts for at least 13 employees, including Jones’ original pick to succeed him, Chief Deputy Kris Palmer, who received $100 worth of gift cards to Claim Jumpers and Regal Cinemas during the July 1-December 31, 2017, reporting period, which ended just days before he dropped out of the race.

Jones also made a $1,120 civic donation to the Make a Wish Foundation, while other campaign expenditures appeared more frivolous, like the $968.30 in “office expenses” Jones paid to Golf Digest.

Based on a review of California Fair Political Practices Commission documents, these dealings appear to be in line with election law. For instance, it’s legal to buy a gift with campaign money, as long as it costs less than $250. But they’re still worth watching, says Loyola Law School professor Jessica A. Levinson, who studies campaign finance and ethics.

“Absolutely,” said Levinson, who is also the president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. “That’s the reason we have these disclosures. It allows people to decide whether he’s making wise or [appropriate] decisions.”

That’s certainly the case when it comes to guns.

Jones has always favored an elastic interpretation of the Second Amendment, and his recent campaign spending shows that. Since January of last year, Jones gave nearly $4,200 in civic donations to the groups Friends of the NRA and Gun Owners of California.

Jones also used political donations to strategize his pro-gun policies. Campaign filings show that he spent $140.87 on candidate travel, lodging and meals for a May 11, 2017, meeting with the San Diego County sheriff “regarding state audit.” Both sheriffs’ departments were audited over their dispensation of concealed firearm permits, which later engulfed Jones in a war of words with State Auditor Elaine Howle, who recommended that Jones be charged with a misdemeanor after he released his response to the audit before the audit itself was released.

The district attorney’s office demurred on Howle’s request to file that charge, kicking the matter to the California attorney general’s office. Jones shared his side of the public spat during a January 22 meeting with a civilian advisory commission, where he said his interpretation of state law is that it doesn’t apply to the subjects of audits.

“I didn’t violate any law,” Jones asserted. “And I don’t know her. I don’t know her, I’ve never met her, I couldn’t pick her out of a line-up. But it’s certainly her option whether she is going to reach out to the attorney general and try and get them to prosecute.

“Whether the auditor is or will be, she has not replied to me as I asked her to.”

As of June 30, 2017, there were 9,130 active licenses to carry concealed firearms floating around Sacramento County.

As Jones has been a big benefactor to gun-sellers, they’ve returned the favor come election season. Last year, Sacramento Gun Club LLC loaded $5,000 into Jones’ campaign account; The Gun Range and its manager Seth Astle donated $2,520; Just Guns retailer Joshua Deaser submitted $4,370, which included a $1,500 auction item; and Gun Owners of California manager Sam Paredes gave $568.

Contributions have yet to show that Jones is hurting himself with conspiracy theories about professional Stephon Clark protesters or public statements supporting the idea of arming teachers. Even those who disagree with the sheriff credit him for being straight-up about his politics.

“He’s a pro-gun guy, Sheriff Scott Jones, and it makes sense that private retailers that want to keep selling guns are [supporting his campaign],” said Amanda Wilcox, the legislation and policy chair of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s California chapters. “They must think he’s good for business.”

But is the gun business still good for Jones? Wilcox thinks the political tide may be turning thanks to a youth movement coming of voter age during the era of mass shootings. Last month she attended an anti-gun-violence rally in Rocklin, where she recalls hearing a student telling attendees how his mother made him promise he wouldn’t intervene if an active-shooter invaded his campus. “Imagine having that conversation with your kid,” Wilcox said. “The students are making their parents care, if they didn’t already.”

Julia Sidley is hoping voters do care. The 15-year-old West Campus High School student spoke at her campus walkout last month and says her generation isn’t willing to shrug off the next Parkland, Fla., school shooting—or the many that preceded it.

“The drills we all once believed to be simple precautions for some improbable event have become preparation for something that has just been accepted as inevitable,” Sidley wrote in a statement to SN&R. “The people we want protecting our streets should not be the ones that want them laced with weapons.”

In an emailed statement, Jones said he didn’t think guns would play a factor in this election, but that he supports the right of young people to speak out, “even if I don’t agree with their proposals.”

“Any tragedy should result in some self-reflection—and certainly we should examine what policy changes can make our schools and the public safer,” Jones added. “We clearly need a better way to handle mental health issues, we need to increase security, and we must improve background checks to ensure mentally unstable do not have access to firearms.”

While Sidley won’t be old enough to cast a ballot in the June primary, she has a message for those who do.

“I just hope those that can will understand the perspective of young people such as myself,” she said in a follow-up email.