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Crime & Justiceby Mark Reutter and Ian Round11:11 amJun 11, 20200

Clippinger commits to taking no more FOP money, others say they’ll keep it

Lawmakers in other states have pledged to return Fraternal Order of Police donations or give them to law enforcement reform efforts. Not so in Baltimore.

Above: In 2015, Baltimore police officers face protesters outside the FOP’s Buena Vista Avenue headquarters. (Fern Shen)

In the wake of widespread protests against systemic racism and increased calls to defund police departments, state Delegate Luke Clippinger made a commitment regarding campaign contributions: going forward, he won’t accept any from police groups.

Among the politicians to whom the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has contributed, the legislator, representing southeast and south Baltimore, is the first to make such a vow.

“We have more work to do to rebuild the way we police in this city and this state so that the public, and specifically the African-American community, have confidence in law enforcement,” Clippinger said in an email. “I look forward to working on real reform this coming session.”

These are the city politicians who accepted donations from Baltimore’s police union (6/8/20)

Clippinger chairs the House Judiciary Committee, which often handles criminal justice bills. Last week he co-created a new work group on police accountability with House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones.

Shortly after Jones was selected the House’s leader last year, she accepted $3,000 from the Baltimore County FOP PAC (political action committee). Jones has not responded to our request for comment.

C. Stokes: Considering It

Former City Councilman Carl Stokes, who placed third in the primary race for Council president, didn’t rush to defend his acceptance of $3,000 from the Baltimore City FOP PAC last month.

But he couldn’t give it back, he said, since he spent it already. In his latest campaign report, Stokes reported a negative balance of more than $7,500, and $29,500 in unpaid loans to himself.

Asked about the commitment of some New York lawmakers to reject campaign funds from police and about the Minneapolis City Council’s intention to defund the police, Stokes wrote the following in an email:

“Going forward, if I should stand for public office, I will consider the very points that you raise. For this particular election, the current accounting is that no funds are available and the campaign account will zero out with no surplus funds.”

R. Stokes: Donations Don’t Sway Me

“The money I got from the FOP has nothing to do with reforming the police department,” says Robert Stokes, who got $2,000 from the police during his tough primary fight against challenger Phillip Westry.

“I don’t operate that way. If you want to donate to my campaign, that’s fine, but I don’t make no agreements to let off the police department,” he said, noting that he recently introduced a City Council resolution calling systemic racism a public health crisis in the U.S.

Stokes said he opposes calls to defund the police department as strongly as he favors the protest marches against racism and police brutality. “We got to look at police policies. If the policies are the same, we keep to protesting.”

John Bullock: Staying Nuanced

Winning reelection in West Baltimore’s 9th District, where citizen resentment over harsh policing tactics has raged for years, John Bullock said he doesn’t always agree with FOP’s leaders. But he doesn’t plan to return the $2,000 they gave him, either.

Asked to explain, he said, “Some of the conditions we’re dealing with now, not only in Baltimore but in other places across the country, really deal with some of those damaged relationships, damaged trust and the treatment of people and communities. So I think both can be true: you don’t have to necessarily be anti-an organization at the same time being able to have a critique of their practices.”

Regarding law enforcement more generally, he said, “I think it’s important for someone like myself to work with police. I understand the challenges we’re faced with, and I’m trying to be somewhat nuanced about these arguments and practices and other things.”

Sharon Middleton: FOP Always Donates

FOP’s $2,000 to Sharon Green Middleton was the second largest donation to her primary campaign, but she said she has paid it little heed. “I haven’t honed in on any donors yet. All my finances are handled by my treasurer.”

The councilwoman, who has represented the northwest 6th District since 2007, said she has no intention of returning FOP money despite  “definite concerns” about the organization’s statements regarding marchers protesting the death of George Floyd.

“They’ve always donated funds. It’s part of their process when they interview” candidates for office. She added, “I’ve always been an advocate of the rights of people. I am a very strong advocate of Black Lives Matter. So I want that to be clear.”

Rain Pryor: Conditional Giveback

“If giving back my [$2,000] contribution will contribute to policy changes nationally and further create the accountability of racism and corruption in our local City Hall and governing powers, then, of course, I will give back my endorsement.”

Pryor, who lost the 3rd District primary race to incumbent Ryan Dorsey, said in an email, “I have always been vocal about police brutality and systemic racism, never shying away from being vocal and standing on the side of justice for my people.

“The FOP was very much aware of my feelings towards them and endorsed me because the incumbent deliberately shunned the opportunity to bring an open and honest dialogue to the community. I was willing to do that.”

Yitzy Schleifer: I Support Good Cops

“Nobody has ever asked me about returning it,” Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said yesterday, referring to FOP’s $2,000 contribution to his successful primary campaign in the 5th District.

“I am supportive of the good officers in the city and, in the same way, I condemn situations that are not good. The FOP represents the good officers that are on our streets every day.”

Schleifer said he would need a lot more information about the circumstances of other politicians who have donated FOP funds to other causes before he could consider such action.

Sheila Dixon: Many Give to Me

FOP and other police groups have donated $16,600 to former mayor Sheila Dixon over the years, and she said she has no intention of giving it back.

In an email to The Brew, she said her campaigns are funded by many different people and groups, but primarily average citizens “reflective of the racial make-up of a diverse Baltimore.” She added that she is well-attuned to “the realities of racial injustice and the impact it has on communities of color.”

No Response

Try as we might over three days, the following elected officials did not respond to our requests for comment about their FOP donations (see chart below):

Speaker of the House of Delegates Adrienne Jones, President of the Senate Bill Ferguson, and City Councilmen Eric Costello and Leon Pinkett.

(Jones got $3,000 from the Baltimore County FOP after she became House Speaker last year. Early in his political career, Ferguson got $3,500 from the Baltimore City FOP. Last November after he was named president of the Senate, he received $1,000 from the Baltimore County FOP. Pinkett got $3,000 from the City FOP during his unsuccessful run for City Council president, while Costello received $2,000 while running unopposed in the 11th District.)

We didn’t get a response from six candidates who did not win in the primary: Paris Bienert, Nicole Harris-Crest, Rodney Hudson, Stephanie Murdock, T.J. Smith and Thiru Vignarajah.

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