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NYC PBA Trump Endorsement Doesn't Matter

Their federal PAC missed filings with origins of contributions in question

Kris LaGrange's picture
Aug 18, 2020

On Friday, the New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA) took a predictable yet unprecedented step in endorsing Trump. According to PBA President Patrick Lynch, this was the first Presidential endorsement in the union’s recent history. "I have 36 years on this job, 21 as the president of this fine organization. I cannot remember when we’ve ever endorsed for Office of the President of the United States, until now. That's how important this is," Lynch said in front of a crowd of his members wearing MAGA hats and Cops for Trump blue t-shirts. After watching the footage, it’s a safe assumption to say that racial and gender diversity were not considered when staging the optics.

Unlike affiliated AFL-CIO unions, the PBA is an independent union. For an affiliated union, a local cannot make a federal endorsement. If they want to support a federal candidate, they must participate in a process for the International to approve donations from the union’s Federal political action committee (PAC). Since the PBA is an independent union, they have no international to get approval from, basically allowing them to do whatever they want, when they want. There are pro's and con's to this "freedom." The pro's, money is fluid and available. The con's, as an organization you are open to corruption and have little professional development and training to become better union leaders. Independent public employee unions often lack qualified leadership with a "cream rises to the top / union boss" mentality.

However, there are some sticking points for the PBA. Since they are a local union, they really don’t have much of a need for a Federal PAC, yet the union decided to start one last year. It seems that the point of starting it was to attack NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio who was running for President, although it could now be used to support Trump’s re-election campaign. According to their campaign filing reports, the union spent $76,608.17 on a campaign to oppose New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s unsuccessful campaign for President. Of that amount, over $35,000 was spent on travel and lodging alone. This included spending $12,025.29 to stay at the beachfront Hyatt Centric Brickell in Miami. According to their FEC report, the expenditure was made on June 26, 2019, the day after DeBlasio participated in a Democratic debate in Miami. According to a story on the PBA’s website, the PAC paid hotel fees for two dozen union members and President Patrick Lynch.

With their first foray into national politics over, the union seems to have run into some issues with their filings. According to their FEC filings, the union’s federal PAC, known as the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, hasn’t filed a report since October 2019. This would seem to be a violation of campaign finance law since their PAC is still listed as active, meaning that they are required to file periodic reports. In 2020 alone, the January and July reports are missing. These reports would also let the public know how much money the PBA could spend to help Trump.

Also, more questions arise like where did this money come from? According to their first filing in July of 2019, which covered the time period of April to June 2019, no contributions were made to the PAC, yet $50,885.65 was spent. The FEC sent the PBA a letter stating:

“Line 7 of your FEC Form 5 filing discloses disbursements made for independent expenditure(s). However, no contributions are disclosed on Line 6, "Total Contributions." Each person (other than a political committee) who made a contribution(s) to your reporting entity during this reporting period, whose contribution(s) had an aggregate amount in excess of $200 within the calendar year, must be itemized on Schedule 5-A, including their identification information, date, and amount of such contribution(s). In addition, memo text must be used to indicate which of these persons made a contribution in excess of $200 to your reporting entity for the purpose of furthering any independent expenditure.”

While an amended report was filed, it still showed no contributions being made to the PAC. Instead the amended filing contained a note stating “Because the Police Benevolent Association of The City of New York, Inc. (''PBA'') has not received contributions made specifically for the purpose of influencing federal elections or furthering federal independent expenditures, PBA did not report receipts on Line 6.”

This response seems not to make sense since the money was being reported as being used to influence a federal election, the Democratic Primary via the trip to Miami.

For comparison, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which is one of the largest unions in the country as well as one of the most politically active, reported raising almost $11 million in 2020 so far. They have itemized all donations over $200, listed the smaller donations as un-itemized, and reported transfers from their state affiliates. This is how a normal union PAC’s report should look. The AFT, is, of course, a legitimate affiliated AFL-CIO union.

While data from their federal PAC is sparse, the PBA does have a war chest built up in their New York State PAC. This makes sense since state lawmakers have influence over police departments. According to the July report, the Police Benevolent Association Independent Expenditure Committee has $299,905.32 in cash on hand. It appears that the only expenditures made since January were bank fees and lawyer fees.

Here are some further facts. Police are supposed to enforce the law and follow the law, it is their common minimal requirement. Here are some speculations. They are not following simple campaign finance rules. That is concerning. Here are some more specualtions. Is PBA legal counsel to blame? Is it a rookie mistake? Their blatant disregard for reporting where their money comes from should alarm everyone. Did it come from the Russians hell-bent on re-electing Trump, hedge fund CEO’s, did it come from Jackson Lewis, the union busting law firm that is taking advantage of  Trump’s multiple union-busting policy changes? This should concern you the union reader that another labor organization is funding a candidate who wants to eliminate your federal right to bargain collectively. We don’t really know where this PBA PAC money is coming from because the PBA failed to follow the law.

Morale is low for the average blue-collar cop in NYC and harassing DeBlasio in Miami was a good way to blow off some steam. Trump and his entire movement are a dying cause and the PBA by endorsing Trump, just bought some tickets to the sinking Titanic. Here is some perspective on why they may have done so. The PBA is trying their best to use every angle of leverage in their constant fight with New York City politicians during these never ending police abuse protests. Embracing Trump seems like the only move they have. It's like taking a girl out on a very public date right after your girlfriend breaks up with you.

The NYPD has come a long way since the ’70s and 80’s when they were crooked and corrupt, wrongfully locking up innocent people, and back then they had lost control of the city. They have come a long way since. Programs like Compstat, which originated in NYC and then was championed by other leaders like Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, have brought relative peace to New York City, making policing more efficient. Before the George Floyd murder, NYC was one of the safest cities in the nation. Now, not so much with shootings and homicides on a rise. Pundits are saying one of the reason for the rise in crime is because of a work slow-down. That accusation is hard to prove and even harder to orchestrate. 

It’s a dangerous assumption to also assume that the PBA wants to incite violence to welcome in the federal mercenaries that Trump is using to incite further fear and division before the November elections. Most New Yorkers don’t want that. In fact, in Portland, it has been reported that the Portland PBA is the reason the Stormtroopers were welcomed even when the department didn’t want it. So, we ask the question could this happen in the Big Apple? New Yorkers want a police force that works with the community, a community that is very angry at what Trump has done over these last four years.

While the PBA’s announcement garnered some headlines symbolically, the reality is that it will probably mean very little logistically. The union represents 24,000 police officers, most if not all live in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut. All of these states are safe, blue, Democratic states. With a federal PAC that seems to have gone inactive, it is also unclear how the PBA will really be able to contribute to Trump’s campaign.

How ironic is it that the New York City PBA had to drive across the river to New Jersey to endorse a man who is too much of a coward to show his face in New York City. The point of us writing this is not to shame our brothers in blue but to plead with them to join the rest of the American union movement to remove Trump and return normalcy back to our great nation. With Trump gone, New York City can be one of the safest cities in the United States again.

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