Corporate Backers of the Blue: How Corporations Bankroll U.S. Police Foundations
As calls to defund the police gain traction, bloated police budgets are coming under scrutiny for siphoning public resources away from black and brown communities. While police budgets are typically public documents that must be approved by elected officials, there are other institutions in place with the sole purpose of funneling even more resources toward law enforcement.
Police foundations across the country are partnering with corporations to raise money to supplement police budgets by funding programs and purchasing tech and weaponry for law enforcement with little public oversight. Annual fundraising events and parties like the St. Paul Police Foundation’s “Blue Nite Gala” and the Chicago Police Foundation’s “True Blue” event are huge moneymakers. The NYC Police Foundation reported that it raised $5.5 million from its annual benefit in 2019.
If police departments already have massive budgets – averaging 20% to 45% of a municipal budget – why do these organizations exist? Police foundations offer a few unique benefits to law enforcement.
First, these foundations can purchase equipment and weapons with little public input or oversight. The Houston Police Foundation has an entire page on its website showcasing the equipment it purchased for the police department, including SWAT equipment, LRAD sound equipment, and dogs for the K-9 unit. The Philadelphia Police Foundation purchased long guns, drones, and ballistic helmets. The Atlanta Police Foundation helped fund a major surveillance network of over 12,000 cameras.
In Los Angeles, the police used foundation funding to purchase controversial surveillance software from Palantir. If the LAPD purchased this technology through its public budget, it would have been required to hold public meetings and gain approval from the city council. By having the foundation purchase it for them, the LAPD was able to bypass that oversight.
Second, these foundations provide a public-private structure wherein the corporate elite can overtly support police departments through direct donations, sponsorships, special programs, and by serving as directors on foundations’ boards. The ongoing protests have emphasized that police exist to enforce a racist social order that protects corporations, capital, and buildings rather than black and brown lives. Police foundations are a key space for orchestrating, normalizing, and celebrating the collaboration between corporate power and the police.
The corporate interests backing police foundations across the country cover a wide range of industries. We profile some of these industries and corporate actors below.
Wall Street & Finance
Some of the biggest backers of police foundations are financial institutions, including public-facing banks that millions of people do business with, as well as some of the most infamous Wall Street vulture firms. Some of these include:
- Bank of America, which has given hundreds of thousand of dollars to police foundations, according to the most recently available tax filing of its charitable arm. These donations include $200,000 to the NYC Police Foundation, $51,250 to the Atlanta Police Foundation, $25,000 to the Boston Police Foundation, $10,000 to the Los Angeles Police Foundation, as well as smaller donations to the Yarmouth MA, Sarasota FL, Abilene TX, Duluth MN, Bellevue WA, and Sacramento and Glendale CA police foundations. They also have seats on the Chicago and NYC police foundation boards.
- Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street behemoth that earned a sordid reputation from its role in causing and profiting from the 2008 financial crisis, gave a whopping $250,000 to the Los Angeles Police Foundation in 2018, as well as $15,000 to the NYC Police Foundation.
- Wells Fargo, the scandal-ridden bank that engaged in everything from predatory lending to profiting from private prisons and fossil fuels, is a “partner” and donor to the Seattle Police Foundation, and it sits on the Atlanta Police Foundation’s board and has sponsored its Blue Jean Ball. Wells Fargo has a record of donating to police foundations that goes back years.
- Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, co-chaired the NYC Police Foundation’s annual gala in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Color of Change has started a petition demanding that Fink and BlackRock stop supporting the foundation.
Regional banks are also major backers of police foundations. SunTrust Bank, based in Atlanta, recently gave $3 million to the Atlanta Police Foundation. Commerce Bank of Washington is a partner and donor to the Seattle Police Foundation, and the bank’s CEO sits on the executive committee of the Seattle Police Foundation’s board. Moreover, private equity money also makes its way into police foundation coffers – for example, Cary Kleinman, managing director and in-house counsel for Oaktree Capital, a major Puerto Rico debt profiteer, supports the Los Angeles Police Foundation. Alan Batkin, a senior advisor to an Oaktree Capital distressed debt fund, is a member of the New York City Police Foundation board of trustees.
Retail & Food Industries
Retail and food and beverage companies are ubiquitous on police foundation boards across the country and include well known national chains as well as popular regional brands. Several of these companies have especially close relationships with the police foundations in the cities where they are headquartered.
- Target has long made major contributions to police foundations across the country, including the NYC, Atlanta, and Seattle Police Foundations. A $200,000 donation from Target helped the LA Police Foundation purchase sophisticated surveillance equipment for the LAPD with little public knowledge. Currently, Target is a sponsor of the Washington D.C. Police Foundation and has a representative on the board. In addition to funding police foundations, Target runs programs with local police departments, including “Heroes and Helpers,” and offers even more funding to local agencies through its “public safety grant” program.
- Starbucks, based in Seattle, is an active donor to the Seattle Police Foundation and has a representative on its board. The company also recently donated $25,000 to the NYC Police Foundation. Starbucks touts its relationship with the police through its “Coffee with a Cop” program, which brings police into Starbucks stores to drink coffee and “interact” with employees and patrons. The company claims to have sponsored over 1,500 of such events over the years.
- Coca-Cola is a massive multinational corporation and a major corporate presence in the Atlanta area where it is headquartered. It is a long time donor to the Atlanta Police Foundation and pledged to give $2 million to the organization in 2018. Coca-Cola’s Chief Public Affairs Officer sits on the police foundation board of trustees.
- Walmart sponsors national pro-police programs, such as “Shop with a Cop,” and region-specific programs such as “Snow Cones with Local Heros,” in Houston. Wal-Mart also donates to the Washington D.C. Police Foundation.
Regional chains can also be found on police foundation boards. Meijer Supermarkets, a supermarket chain owned by the two richest people in Michigan, has a representative on the board of the Detroit Police Foundation and is a sponsor of the foundation’s events “Women in Blue” and “Above & Beyond.” Dave’s Supermarket is a Cleveland-area grocery chain that partners with the Cleveland Police Foundation on events.
Big Tech & Communications
Silicon Valley powerhouses and major communications firms populate the boards of police foundations and are some of these foundation’s top bankrollers. Some examples include:
- Amazon not only sits on the executive committee of the Seattle Police Foundation’s board and is a partner and donor, but it donates to police foundations across the U.S. through its charitable program, AmazonSmile. Amazon has been widely criticized for selling facial recognition software to police and partnering with departments who use its surveillance technology.
- Motorola has a board seat with the Seattle Police Foundation and has donated at least $35,000. It also sits on the board of the Washington DC Police Foundation and Detroit Public Safety Foundation and donates to the Chicago Police Foundation. Motorola profits from selling body cams, radios, and other products to police departments.
- Verizon gives to the Chicago and NYC Police Foundations and is a board member of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation. As Donald Shaw of Sludge reported, Verizon – along with AT&T – are also “Platinum Partners” of the National Sheriff’s Association, a law enforcement lobbying group.
- Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are also all partners and donors to the Seattle Police Foundation, and Microsoft sits on the foundation’s board. Viacom and its CBS Corporation subsidiary have also given big to the Seattle and NYC police Foundation and others, and the Gothamist reported that AT&T was a “deep-pocketed” donor to the NYC Police Foundation.
Fossil Fuel & Utility Companies
Many of the same companies that are driving our climate crisis are also donors, partners, and board members for police foundations. These include:
- Chevron has a spot on the Houston Police Foundation board, and, in the past, has partnered with the foundation to host the North American Mounted Unit Commander‘s Association Conference.
- DTE Energy, the midwest utility giant, is a donor to the Detroit Public Safety Foundation board. DTE also has a trustee spot on the foundation’s board.
- Marathon Petroleum, owner of a major refinery in Detroit, sits on the Detroit Public Safety Foundation board. Marathon is also a donor to the foundation.
The chairman and CEO of Hilcorp Energy is a Houston Police Foundation board member, while the CEO of Halliburton is on the foundation’s advisory board. Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power is a donor to the Atlanta Police Foundation and has a board seat. Energy Transfer Partners, a company that gained notoriety for its role in the Dakota Access Pipeline, is a sponsor of “Friends of the Dallas Police.”
Regional and Local Power: Sports, Universities, Etc.
Finally, a major category of corporate backers of police foundations is local and regional actors. These include law firms, real estate firms, universities, sports teams, and companies that are headquartered in the same city or state as a police foundation – sometimes well-known corporations, and other times less-known and smaller businesses.
- Sports & Entertainment. Sporting events consistently showcase the deep relationship between pro sports franchises and law enforcement. “Law Enforcement Appreciation Nights” are common and some franchises even have branded products specifically highlighting this connection to the police, such as the thin blue line beanies sold by the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. While sports franchise participation in police foundations may be local to the cities they are based in, the celebration of law enforcement at pro sports events is a national issue.
In Detroit, for example, the NFL’s Lions, NBA’s Pistons, and MLB’s Tigers each have a representative on the Detroit Public Safety Foundation board of trustees. The Lions and the Pistons are both sponsors of the foundation’s fundraising events. The Director for Security for the MLB’s Seattle Mariners sits on the board of the Seattle Police Foundation, and the Mariners and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks donate to the foundation.
The MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers each have a representative on the board of the Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association. The NBA’s Dallas Mavericks are corporal-level sponsors of the Friends of the Dallas Police. Scott Wilpon of the Wilpon Family, owners of the NY Mets, sits on the NYC Police Foundation board of trustees.
- Colleges & Universities. Institutions of higher education have ties to police foundations in their cities. For example, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the site of the violent “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 that left Heather Heyer dead after a car attack by a white supremacist, the local police foundation is sponsored by the University of Virginia (UVA). In fact, the foundation has three UVA-connected board members including the Associate Dean of Students.
In Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania is a “partner” of the Philadelphia Police Foundation. In Boston, the Director of Student Engagement at Fisher College sits on the board of the Boston Police Foundation. Seattle University is a donor and sponsor of the Seattle Police Foundation. Columbia University trustee Abigail Elbaum Black sits on the NYC Police Foundation board, as does Alan R. Batkin, a member of the board of overseers of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.
- Law firms, real estate firms & other local companies. If you go to the board or sponsor page of any police foundation, and you’ll find a host of local law firms, real estate developers, and other local businesses. In Dallas, for example, Holt Commercial is a sponsor of the “Friends of the Dallas Police” and has a slot on its board. Mortgage lender Quicken Loan in Detroit has a representative on the board of the Detroit Public Safety Foundation and sponsors their events.
- The chairman of the Seattle Police Foundation is a Shareholder and General Counsel of Lane Powell, a law firm that does business in the Pacific Northwest, while the chairman of the Atlanta Police Foundation is the President and CEO of Loudermilk Companies, a fixture in the Atlanta real estate market for decades. The NYC Police Foundation gala is sponsored by a slew of powerhouse NYC law firms and developers. Robert Schumer, a partner at Paul Weiss Rifkind and the brother of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, sits on the NYC Police Foundation board of trustees.
By browsing police foundation websites and social media accounts, movements against police violence and efforts to defund the police in specific cities can get a better, broader picture of the power behind the police in their area. Researching and power mapping the corporate partners, sponsors, donors, and board members of their local police foundations can help campaigns understand who is standing behind the police and who might step in to supplement police budgets when efforts to defund take hold.
We’re partnering with Action Center for Race and the Economy (ACRE) to host a series of webinars on how to research police budgets, police foundations, and other aspects of police power with an eye toward challenging that power. Follow @acrecampaigns and @twittlesis on Twitter for updates!