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‘No Cop Money’ Pledge Should Extend To Consultants And Law Enforcement Super PACs

Law enforcement super PACs are spending big money on district attorney races and local elections from California to New York—and respected Democratic consulting firms are helping them.

On May 30, an LAPD officer aims a weapon described by law enforcement as nonlethal during a confrontation with protesters following the death of George Floyd.Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

This piece is a commentary, part of The Appeal’s collection of opinion and analysis.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent uprisings against police brutality have put a spotlight on the role of police unions in American politics. Many have rightly noted that these unions are a fundamental roadblock to reform of the criminal legal system.

In response, activists are calling on political candidates to stop taking police money—a “No Cop Money” pledge—as a means of curtailing their influence. These campaign funding prohibitions draw parallels to the “No Corporate PAC” and “No Fossil Fuel Money” pledges, which are ways for candidates to illustrate they will not be influenced by big moneyed interests. 

While it’s important for politicians to reject campaign donations from police unions, we believe they must also denounce independent expenditure committees operated by police unions and sheriffs’ associations, which can accept contributions of any size and support or oppose candidates. Law enforcement use these groups to shape local governments and oppose reform candidates in district attorney races. 

Equally critical, Democratic and progressive consultants should likewise be pressured not to work with these groups. Consultants perform critical tasks for political campaigns and they should not help police undermine necessary criminal justice reform.

Expanding the “No Cop Money” pledge can make it more effective—both in terms of the political leverage it can generate and the amount of power it can potentially remove from law enforcement unions. 

Los Angeles DA Race

Last week, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies killed Andres Guardado, an 18-year-old who was working as a security guard at an auto body shop. 

“We had a security guard that was out front, because we had just had certain issues with people tagging and stuff like that,” the shop’s owner said. “And then the police came up, and they pulled their guns on him and he ran because he was scared, and they shot and killed him. He’s got a clean background and everything. There’s no reason.”

Deputies allegedly destroyed security cameras nearby and removed security footage from the shop.

The Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs has helped lead one of the main outside spenders in this year’s county DA race between incumbent Jackie Lacey and reformer George Gascón. In March, Lacey and Gascón advanced to a runoff election that will take place in November. 

An outside group that supported Lacey, called the Neighborhood Safety Coalition, is led by Ron Hernandez, president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, and Michelle Hanisee, the president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, according to ad buying records. Local campaign finance filings show that more than 70 percent of the group’s donations came from just the deputy sheriffs’ association, and 90 percent of its funds came from police groups.

The Neighborhood Safety Coalition has employed a group of prominent Democratic consulting firms, including AKPD Message & Media, a Chicago consulting firm that worked for Barack Obama’s and Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaigns. Hart Research Associates, a prominent Democratic pollster, and VR Research, a Democratic opposition research firm, have also done business with the committee.

Los Angeles law enforcement additionally has influence through the Public Safety Professionals United for a Safer Los Angeles County, a committee that opposed Gascón. The group listed Hannu Tarjamo and Craig Lally, a director and the president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, respectively, as its treasurer and assistant treasurer in a campaign filing.

Democratic consulting firms that have aided the Public Safety Professionals United include Targeted Platform Media, a media buying firm that works for Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting Joe Biden; Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, an Oakland-based polling firm that works with many Democratic campaigns; and West Coast Public Affairs, a company affiliated with Lani Barrameda-Shallman and Democratic consultant John Shallman.

During the recent protests against police brutality, the Los Angeles Police Department has responded to protesters with force. Numerous videos from the protests have been widely circulated, “including several in which officers can be seen aggressively beating non-violent protesters with their batons,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

After Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed cutting the LAPD’s $1.8 billion budget by up to $150 million, Los Angeles Police Protective League director Jamie McBride said: “We are honestly concerned about his [Garcetti’s] mental health, and I think that he should seek some help, and maybe have someone to talk to, a counselor or something, and reflect on some of his decisions, reflect on his ability to lead the city and keep the citizens safe.”

Lacey, the current Los Angeles DA, has rejected the idea that politicians should eschew police union support, asserting that “any proposal that prevents a union from actively engaging their members in the democratic process is an extremely dangerous path to go down.” 

Union Strong from California to New York

Law enforcement outside spending has been noteworthy in San Francisco and Long Island, as well.

In 2019, reformer Chesa Boudin defeated interim DA Suzy Loftus in the San Francisco DA race by an incredibly narrow margin. His victory was hailed as a win for the “progressive prosecutor movement.”

The Committee for a Safer and Cleaner San Francisco distributed mailers comparing Boudin to a child surgeon and claiming that he believes “drunk driving is a victimless crime.” Local campaign finance records show that the committee was led by Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, and Sean Perdomo, the association’s treasurer.

West Coast Public Affairs and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates both worked for the Committee for a Safer and Cleaner San Francisco. Pacific Printing, a direct mail firm that has handled mail and printing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also subcontracted with the committee.

Californians United for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools, an outside political group with ties to law enforcement that supported Loftus, also employed West Coast Public Affairs and Pacific Printing. Local campaign finance records list Paul Kelly, the president of the San José Police Officers’ Association, as the group’s treasurer.

In New York, the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation has been a big spender in local Suffolk County elections. In 2016, Newsday reported that the super PAC has been “funded with $1-a-day mandatory fees from approximately 2,500 police department members” and has “regularly outspent candidates it targeted for defeat in recent elections.”

“The rise of the police super PAC, which can spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates, has come as police unions negotiated contracts that made them among the highest paid law enforcement officers in the nation,” the newspaper wrote. 

In 2019, the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation spent big to re-elect Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, and was also involved in eight county legislator races. The group’s top vendor that year was Red Horse Strategies, a consulting firm that’s worked for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 re-election campaign, and Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential bid

“We have worked with a broad variety of labor unions to elect Democrats across the country,” said Doug Forand, a senior partner at Red Horse Strategies. “We do not currently work with any law enforcement unions, nor will we do so in the future.”

John Fairbank, a partner at Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, said his polling firm won’t assist similar groups anymore either. “We have made a decision as a firm that we will no longer work for law enforcement super PACs,” he said.

(The other firms did not respond to emailed requests for comment).

Direct campaign donations play a major role in political campaigns, and advocating that elected officials forgo funding from police unions is a noble and necessary demand. But super PACs and independent expenditure committees led by law enforcement unions can have far greater influence.

The “No Cop Money” pledge should also cover law enforcement super PACs, and Democratic consultants must stop cashing their checks. Though candidates typically cannot have official control over outside spending, denouncing law enforcement groups’ independent expenditures could greatly curtail their effectiveness. 

Adam Eichen and Andrew Perez are co-founders of the Democratic Policy Center, a progressive advocacy group.