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Who is Funding Police Campaigns?

June 10, 2024

When it comes to campaigning in California, it’s hard to outdo law enforcement. Police unions and associations in California contributed $38.5 million to state campaigns between 2012 and 2022, more than quadruple the spending of the next highest state, New York.

And then in 2022, these donations exploded. The Police Protective League, the LAPD’s largest union, raised $10 million alone to use in elections that year.

Police PAC money is typically spent on campaigns to elect candidates and politicians who will advocate for carceral solutions and stymie efforts to hold police accountable. The unions’ political donations are typically behind the fights to stop the release of body-cam footage, any effort to increase training in deescalating conflict, and calls to prosecute police for the wrongful death of civilians. Police unions were behind the effort in 2020 to reelect L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who was a well-known defender of police and had a perfect record of never convicting the police of any of the 600 officer-involved deaths of civilians during her tenure. Lacey lost to reformer DA George Gascón, who law enforcement has targeted via disinformation and recall efforts. 

How are police unions able to pour millions of dollars into elections? 

It’s not (just) from dues, which typically make up a small percentage of law enforcement organizations’ political donations. Instead, corporations are bankrolling these organizations.

An investigation into the contributions to eight of the nation’s police associations, including the Los Angeles Police Foundation, found four industries – Tech, Fossil Fuels, Wall Street (including Real Estate), and Retail – funnel millions of dollars a year into police foundations. For example, in 2024, just one real estate investment firm gave $400,000 to the Los Angeles Police Protective League to help its fight to unseat Councilwoman Nithya Raman. In 2018, Goldman Sachs gave $250,000 to the Los Angeles Police Foundation, and Chevron gives big, too.

These industries also directly contribute to election campaigns alongside police associations, effectively doubling their influence on races up and down the ballot. 

So why does Big Oil, Big Tech, and other industry money always seem to accompany law enforcement investments in elections?

The answer lies in crony capitalism. 

These industries make billions of dollars off of the status quo – a status quo that includes the ability to pollute with impunity, the ability to abuse workers and keep wages low, and the ability to continue to raise the cost of housing despite pricing out a vast majority of working families. 

Part of that status quo depends on police forces that have gigantic budgets and the ability to act without fear of consequence. Big Oil has been able to convince states to criminalize the protesting of oil drill sites, and these laws depend on police departments to back them up — Big Tech profits from selling radios, surveillance cameras, and more to police. Real Estate magnates make money from gentrification which is made easier by pushing people out with threats of incarceration. And fear of police helps keep citizens from challenging Amazon for building new warehouses, WalMart for underpaying its employees, and other corporations from wreaking havoc in their neighborhoods.

Whenever big money comes into politics, it’s important to follow the trail of where it comes from. Be sure to check out your representatives’ Courage Score to see who funds their campaigns!