Police reform is now a congressional priority following nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Many of the protests in cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., have been met with militarized force and violence but efforts to achieve political reforms have been confronted by financial opposition from police unions and one New Jersey congressman is the top beneficiary of those funds.
Black Lives Matter, one of the main organizing bodies behind the protests, has long fought for transparency and accountability in response to police violence against Black communities.
With Floyd’s death, the group is calling for a national defunding of police departments, whose budgets have flourished while crime rates declined.
“We demand acknowledgment and accountability for the devaluation and dehumanization of Black life at the hands of the police,” read a May 30 statement released by Black Lives Matter.
The bill is expected to address qualified immunity — a legal doctrine that protects officers from repercussions after use of force — as well as training requirements and bans on excessive use of force such as chokeholds. Legislation is likely to pass the Democrat-controlled House, but its fate in the Senate is less certain. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he’s open to reviewing legislation but has yet to make any further comment regarding specific provisions.
Police unions are expected to rally against proposed reforms, key among them the National Fraternal Order of Police, which represents over 351,000 members and has four full-time lobbyists on staff. But the unions’ power extends beyond lobbying.
They fund and endorse candidates and hold sway over the contributions of the hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers around the country.
Since the 1994 election cycle, 55 police union and law enforcement PACs have donated over $1.1 million to congressional campaigns, more than a third of which has gone to current members of congress. Funds spread to both sides of the aisle, especially to those in prominent positions and with influence in the House Law Enforcement Caucus. Another $9 million in itemized contributions come from those listing current or retired law enforcement positions as their profession since 1990.
Current and retired law enforcement officers have given $1.5 million so far this election cycle, during which over $2 billion has been contributed by individuals across congressional and presidential races.
The largest recipient of police union funding in Congress is Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), the Democratic co-chair of the House Law Enforcement Caucus. He has received over $43,000 from police unions and law enforcement PACs since 2004.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) follows, with $35,500 from police union and law enforcement PACs since 2005. Hoyer is now leading the call for an early return to session to enact police reform. After donating $5,000 to his reelection campaign in 2018, the National FOP released a statement saying “his office regularly reaches out to the FOP to seek our input on legislation touching on law enforcement, labor, and criminal justice issues. His ‘open door’ policy to the FOP is invaluable when moving bills through the House.”
However, police unions have not contributed to Hoyer during the 2020 cycle as of May 21.
The National FOP accounted for a quarter of police union and law enforcement PAC donations to current members of Congress as of May 21. The union’s lobby has previously pushed back on reform-minded bills like the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” and the “End Racial Profiling Act,” neither of which have been brought to a vote.
Overall, six of the top 10 recipients of police union funding in the House are Democrats, numbers mirrored in the Senate. The largest Senate benefactor has been Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Leahy harshly condemned the killing of Floyd from the Senate floor on Wednesday. He suggested support for popular police reform efforts including mandatory cultural competency training and ending qualified immunity, a practice defended by the FOP.
“Ultimately accountability will require dismantling this culture of impunity, as well as ensuring that law enforcement officers have training and policies in place that serve to rebuild trust in communities of color,” Leahy said in the chamber Wednesday.A Flourish chart
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has come under recent scrutiny for her record on police violence as lead prosecutor in Hennepin County, is one of the senators with the most contributions from police union and law enforcement PACs.
Klobuchar did not bring charges in more than two dozen cases of officer-involved fatalities during her prosecutorial tenure. Klobuchar, along with fellow Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) is now calling for an investigation by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division into the “patterns and practices of racially discriminatory and violent policing in the Minneapolis Police Department” in a letter to Attorney General William Barr.
In 2016, the FBI estimated that sworn officers represent 2.4 per 1,000 Americans. A 2016 Pew study showed that police views on law enforcement’s treatment of Black communities differ sharply from the general public’s.
Like PAC money, contributions from individual police officers have gone to politicians on both sides of the aisle, representing an array of politics. Among the top recipients in 2020 are President Donald Trump, Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), all of whom had 2020 presidential bids, according to itemized donations above $200 reported to the FEC.A Flourish chart
When small donations made through campaign financing platforms ActBlue and WinRed are included in analyses, Biden has slightly outraised Trump in reported individual law enforcement officer contributions this year as of April 30. People listing police officer as their profession contributed over $70,000 to Biden’s presidential campaign compared to Trump’s $62,000.
Trump narrowly outraised Hillary Clinton in large donations from officers in the 2016 election cycle. The month before the election, he was endorsed by the National FOP.
One of the top recipients of police contributions was the National Rifle Association’s PAC. The National FOP and NRA have a history of lobbying on similar issues, sometimes citing one another in press releases with messages of support.
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