Corporate Funding of Police Foundations

The lavish overfunding of the police goes beyond public money.

BY GIN ARMSTRONG AND DEREK SEIDMAN | July/August 2020

This article is from Dollars & Sense: Real World Economics, available at http://www.dollarsandsense.org


This article is from the (forthcoming) July/August 2020 issue.

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The ongoing protests against police brutality in the United States are revealing on a mass scale that police enforce a social order that places the value of capital and property above Black lives. As a result, calls to defund the police are gaining traction and police budgets are now under increased scrutiny, and for good reason—on average their budgets account for 20-45% of an entire municipal budget, which is typically the largest public expenditure for any city.

However, in addition to their bloated public budgets, police departments have another source of funding that gets little attention and requires no public oversight: police foundations.

Police foundations across the country partner with corporations to raise money to supplement police budgets. While public budgets require approval from elected officials, foundation money can be spent without that public oversight. Moreover, police foundations are spaces where corporations and the police can maintain and strengthen their alliance and collaboration with one another. Annual fundraising events and parties like the Atlanta Police Foundation’s “A Night in Blue” 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.

Foundations then turn around and spend that cash on programs, surveillance tech, body armor, weaponry, and more. The Houston Police Foundation purchased SWAT equipment, Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) sound equipment, and dogs for their K-9 unit. The Philadelphia Police Foundation purchased long guns, drones, and ballistic helmets. The Atlanta Police Foundation helped fund a surveillance network of over 12,000 cameras.

In Los Angeles, the police foundation purchased controversial surveillance software that would have typically required public meetings and approval from city council. Since the equipment was purchased by the foundation, the LAPD was able to bypass that oversight. Perhaps more importantly, however, foundations provide a key space where the relationship between the corporate elite and police forces are solidified. These public-private structures serve to normalize, celebrate, and reward those who uphold the racist social order that is now on full display.

Our recent Public Accountability Initiative and LittleSis.org report—published on June 18, 2020, on our news site, Eyes on the Ties (news.littlesis.org)—profiled some of the corporations providing the funding for these foundations. These companies represent some of the largest and well-known national brands as well as pro sports teams, universities, and regional chains.

Wall Street, for example, is a major backer of police foundations. Goldman Sachs gave $250,000 to the Los Angeles Police Foundation in 2018 (compared to this huge donation, the $15,000 it gave to the NYC Police Foundation that same year seems small).

The charitable arm of Bank of America gave $200,000 to the NYC Police Foundation in 2018, as well as tens of thousands to the Atlanta, Boston, and Los Angeles police foundations. The public-facing bank, which has board seats with the Chicago and NYC police foundations, even donated—albeit, in much tinier amounts—to smaller-town police foundations in Duluth, Minnesota and Bellevue, Washington, and elsewhere.

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, also has police foundation ties. Its CEO Larry Fink co-chaired the NYC Police Foundation’s annual gala from 2017 to 2019. (A petition organized by Color of Change is demanding that Fink and BlackRock stop supporting the foundation).

Meanwhile, another major financial institution, Wells Fargo, gives money to the Seattle Police Foundation and has a seat on the Atlanta Police Foundation board, even as it has attracted major scrutiny over its ties to the prison industrial complex.

Another major sector backing police foundations is Big Tech. Facebook, Google, and Microsoft all donate to police foundations or have board seats. None of them, however, outdo Amazon in their police ties. In addition to sitting on the executive committee of the Seattle Police Foundation’s board, Amazon donates to multiple police foundations throughout the United States—from Los Angles and San Diego to Cleveland and Chicago—through its AmazonSmile charitable arm. Jeff Bezos’s behemoth has also been widely criticized for shopping its facial recognition technology to police departments and sharing footage with police from hundreds of its Ring security cameras across the United States.

Communications companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Motorola also have board seats with police foundations or are donors. Furthermore, major airlines also support police foundations. Delta Air Lines, for example, is a “Chief Sponsor” of the Atlanta Police Foundation’s 2020 “Night in Blue” celebration, and also has a board seat with the foundation.

Fossil fuel and utility companies don’t just perpetuate our climate emergency—they also help bankroll and provide civic support to police foundations. Chevron, Halliburton, and Hilcorp Energy all sit on the Houston Police Foundation board or advisory board. Both DTE Energy, a major utility company, and Marathon Petroleum, one of the biggest and dirtiest refiners in the United States, donate to the Detroit Public Safety Foundation and also have board seats.

Some of the most public-facing retail, food, and beverage brands are also promoters of the police through their donations, sponsorships, and board ties to police foundations. This includes Walmart, Target, Meijer Supermarkets, and Coca-Cola. Starbucks in particular has close police ties—for example, it has hosted hundreds of “Coffee with a Cop” programs in its stores and has also donated $25,000 to the NYC Police Foundation. Starbucks also donates to the Seattle Police Foundation and has a seat on their board.

What’s more, as we’ve also reported, many of the companies we’ve mentioned here that help bankroll police foundations have also received billions in corporate tax breaks. For example, according to a recent Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy report, Bank of America raked in $5.595 billion in tax subsidies in 2018, Amazon took in $2.404 billion, and Starbucks received $1.077 billion. Many of these companies paid effectively negative federal income tax rates in 2018—though they had money to give to police foundations.

Finally, a host of regional corporate backers help fund and prop up police foundations. These include local and regional law firms, sport teams, and universities.

Take the Seattle Police Foundation, for example. The MLB’s Seattle Mariners have a board seat, and they, along with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, donate thousands to the foundation. Seattle University also donates to the foundation and acts as a sponsor. The Seattle Police Foundation’s chairman, Charles C. Huber, is a shareholder and General Counsel of Lane Powell, a law firm that does business in the Pacific Northwest.

Some will undoubtedly point to the community engagement programs funded by some police foundations as proof of their necessity, and there is much to say about programs that use community engagement schemes to attempt to bolster the image of the police. However, rather than debate the merits of highly selective PR-minded philanthropy—let alone the implications of charity going through the police, further normalizing law enforcement’s presence in our everyday lives—we should instead be asking ourselves what programs and public goods a city could fund if its police budget were reduced or even eliminated. What could Black and Brown communities in Los Angeles do with $5 billion? What could Seattle do with $412 million? What could your hometown do with the millions it spends on the police?

Further, what necessities could the United States fund if the corporations that pump money into police foundations were instead obligated to pay their fair share in taxes? As efforts to defund the police grow ever more popular, we should envision what a just funding of community needs will look like.

is a senior research analyst with the Public Accountability Initiative. She is based in Buffalo, New York.
is a research analyst with the Public Accountability Initiative. He is based in Buffalo, New York.

The Center for Popular Democracy, “Congress Must Divest the Billion Dollar Police Budget and Invest in Public Education,” June 10, 2020 (populardemocracy.org); Atlanta Police Foundation, “A Night in Blue Postponed,” (atlantapolicefoundation.org); Chicago Police Foundation, “True Blue Event,” (chicagopolicefoundation.org); New York City Police Foundation, “New York City Police Foundation, Inc. Statement of Activities Year Ended June 30, 2019,” (nycpolicefoundation.org); Houston Police Foundation, “Our Recently Funded Projects,” (houstonpolicefoundation.org); #PhillyWeRise, “Standing In the Way of a Black Stimulus: The Ultra-Wealthy People and Corporations Starving the Philadelphia City Budget and Funding the Police,” (phillywerise.com); Marcus K. Garner, “12K cameras to give Atlanta police broader window to city,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 27, 2014 (ajc.com); Ali Winston and Darwin Bond Graham, “Private donors, including Target and IBM, supply spy gear to cops,” MinnPost special to ProPublica, Oct. 15, 2014 (minnpost.com); Gin Armstrong and Derek Seidman, “Corporate Backers of the Blue: How Corporations Bankroll U.S. Police Foundations,” Eyes on the Ties, June 18, 2020 (news.littlesis.org); ProPublica Nonprofit Explorer, “Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund form 990 for fiscal year ending in Dec. 2018,” (projects.propublica.org); Chicago Police Foundation, “2019-2020 Board of Directors,” (chicagopolicefoundation.org); New York City Police Foundation, “Board of Trustees & Staff,” May 2018-May 2020, accessed via Internet Archive Wayback Machine (nycpolicefoundation.org); Alicia McElhaney, “Color of Change Calls on Larry Fink to Stop Supporting NYC Police Foundation,” Institutional Investor, June 11, 2020 (institutionalinvestor.com); Color of Change, “Tell BlackRock CEO Larry Fink: stop funding the NYPD’s attacks on protesters!,” (act.colorofchange.org); Seattle Police Foundation, “Our Partners,” March 2017-June 2020, accessed via Internet Archive Wayback Machine (seattlepolicefoundation.org); Atlanta Police Foundation, “Board Members,” (atlantapolicefoundation.org); Alyxandra Goodwin, Whitney Shepard, and Carrie Sloan, Police Brutality Bonds: How Wall Street Profits from Police Violence, Action Center on Race & the Economy, June 24, 2020 (acrecampaigns.org); Seattle Police Foundation, “Foundation Board of Directors,” March 2017-May 2020, accessed via Internet Archive Wayback Machine (seattlepolicefoundation.org); Gin Armstrong and Derek Seidman, “Amazon says Black Lives Matter, but it’s Helping Fund Police Foundations Across the U.S.,” Eyes on the Ties, June 4, 2020 (news.littlesis.org); Starbucks’ Stories & News, “Coffee with a Cop,” (stories.starbucks.com); Starbucks’ Stories & News, “The Starbucks Foundation Donates More Than $3M to Global COVID-19 Relief Efforts,” April 1, 2020 (stories.starbucks.com); Munira Lokhandwala and Derek Seidman “From Amazon to Starbucks, Corporations Avoid Billions in Taxes While Funding Police Foundations,” Eyes on the Ties, June 24, 2020 (news.littlesis.org); Matthew Gardner, Lorena Roque, and Steve Wamhoff, Corporate Tax Avoidance in the First Year of the Trump Tax Law, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Dec. 16, 2019 (itep.org).

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